Developer seeks to buy Afro-American's office Apartments planned for paper's building

September 19, 1991|By Edward Gunts

The home of the Afro-American newspaper would be torn down and replaced with a 60-unit apartment complex, if a developer is able to move ahead with a plan he will present today to city officials.

Wally May, head of the May Development Co. of Columbia, said that he has a contract to purchase the Afro-American headquarters at Eutaw Street and Druid Hill Avenue and hopes to raze it in time to begin construction early next year on a $6 million, six-story apartment complex, called Eutaw Place.

Mr. May and his architects were scheduled to meet today with Baltimore's Architectural Review Board to present preliminary plans for their building.

Lynette Locke, a spokeswoman for the 99-year-old newspaper company, said that she had no knowledge of any plan by the newspaper's owners to sell its building. And she said she wouldn't necessarily say so if she knew anything.

"If there's something to be written about the Afro, we will report it first," she said. "I don't know about anything about this developer. It is nothing like that, as far as we know."

Mr. May is a minority developer who tried several years ago to recycle the vacant Stewart's building at Howard and Lexington streets but was unable to obtain the federal funds he sought.

He said he understands that Afro officials are working with leasing agents to find new office space for the newspaper and that the relocation will not affect the production of the paper because the printing presses are elsewhere. He said no sale price had been set for the 23,000-square-foot Afro building because the price is being determined through an appraisal, which hadn't been completed.

Next year will be the 100th anniversary of the newspaper, which employs about 100 and has a circulation of about 75,000 for its weekly newspapers in Baltimore, Washington and Richmond. Ms. Locke said that the building has been the home for the newspaper throughout its history.

The building is surrounded by the Seton Hill historic district, but the building itself is not protected by landmark status. According to city preservation officials, the newspaper headquarters was exempted from the historic district at the newspaper owner's request.

Marion Blackwell, a board member of Baltimore Heritage and the Coalition for Historic Neighborhoods, said that the building was not an architectural gem. However, she said it was "a landmark in terms of the history of Baltimore City" because of its role as the longtime home of the Afro-American, whose newspapers had a peak circulation of 200,000 in the 1950s.

Ms. Blackwell said that the demolition would be part of a trend in which a number of buildings important to black Baltimoreans, such as the Royal Theater on Pennsylvania Avenue, have been lost because they were not protected by landmark designation. "I think it's a great loss," she said.

Mr. May said that the building cannot be saved because it wouldn't be cost-effective to adapt for residential use. But he said that the site is an ideal location for new residences because of its proximity to downtown, the Metro, the new light rail line and the new stadium. He said that he expects the apartments to appeal to people who work downtown and want to live close to where they work.

"This corridor is a wonderful place," he said. "It is indeed the rejuvenation of the old downtown."

Mr. May said that his group, Eutaw Place Associates Limited Partnership, has applied for state mortgage revenue bonds and state housing funds as well as tax credits for developers who create affordable housing. He said that he hopes to begin construction in January and complete the project by the end of 1992. Designed by Hord, Coplan & Macht, the one- and two-bedroom apartments are expected to rent for $400 to $500 a month.

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