Spicing up city living Redevelopment: Wendy Blair and Derek McDaniels bring a passion for history and community to their work on Spicer's Run.

December 20, 1998|By Charles Belfoure | Charles Belfoure,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

While many developers may hesitate to take on projects inside Baltimore, Wendy Blair and Derek McDaniels are part of a new generation of young developers who welcome the challenge of urban redevelopment.

"They're exactly what we're looking for in a development team, young and energetic," said Catherine Sennell, director of development for the city Department of Housing and Community Development. "You couldn't ask for a better example of a development for the city like Spicer's Run," said Sennell.

At the corner of Eutaw Place and North Avenue, on one of the largest vacant parcels in the city, the development partnership of Blair McDaniels has started construction on a $13.3 million, 86-unit market rate townhouse project they say will attract middle-income buyers and stabilize the northern edge of Bolton Hill.

FOR THE RECORD - The spelling of C. William Struever has been corrected for the archive database. See microfilm for original story.

With a combination of urban development expertise and an understanding of the surrounding community, the two 38-year-old developers were awarded the right to develop the 7-acre lot by the city in 1997. With a sales office on site, they already have taken five contracts.

"Our vision is to increase homeownership and enhance the urban fabric of Baltimore," McDaniels said.

Their approach to development is distinctly different from many traditional developers. "They don't come in and tell a community what's best for them; they ask the community what they want," said Keith Weaver, principal of LDR International, a land-planning firm in Columbia that designed the Spicer's Run site plan.

"Tell us what you think should be here," said McDaniels. "We're like a blank sheet and we take down the community's ideas for the kind of development they want to see."

Many believe it was Blair McDaniels' sensitivity to the Bolton Hill neighborhood that made them the winner.

"It was a great partnership every step of the way," said Doreen Rosenthal, president of the Mount Royal Improvement Association. "They listened to the community." When the community suggested a bay window on the side of an end townhouse, the developers added one even though it was an extra expense. They understood that it was a design element on many of the neighborhood's historic houses.

Blair McDaniels had to compete with two other development teams for the project and was required to present a proposal to the city outlining its concept.

"From the beginning, even when they put the proposal together, they consulted with us," remembered Debbie Diehl, head of the Spicer's Run committee for the improvement association. "When the models are finished, Wendy and Derek want members of the community to come to the sales office to greet prospective buyers and answer any questions they may have about the neighborhood," Diehl added.

Getting started

Blair and McDaniels' attitudes about development were formed early in their careers.

Blair, educated at Amherst and New York University, where she received a master's degree in public administration, had been involved with real estate development early on, starting with summer jobs with the Urban League and Neighborhood Housing Services in her native Queens, N.Y.

She eventually moved to Baltimore to work for USF&G Corp. as an asset manager and then as a development director for Struever Brothers, Eccles and Rouse. At Struever Brothers, she handled projects from concept to completion, giving her valuable hands-on experience.

"I had to figure out everything by myself, and that's the best way to learn," Blair remembered. It was at Struever Brothers that she met McDaniels, when they both worked on The Woodlands, a continuation of the Cold Spring New Town project.

McDaniels was working for Ryland Homes, the builder of Woodlands.

With an undergraduate degree in architecture and urban planning from the University of Maryland and a master's degree in business administration from Marymount University, the New Jersey native started his development career in Florida with Ryan Homes.

He then worked for an inner-city developer in Philadelphia. "That's where I learned how to build in an urban market," McDaniels recalled. "I discovered the two most important skills: to have a mother's patience and a bulldog's tenacity to get things done." It was in Philadelphia that he developed a deep affection for historic buildings, which would be a key element of his projects.

Recruited by Ryland, he came to Baltimore to coordinate Ryland's first venture in a city setting. He was at the right project at the right time. The company decided that the urban market was the next frontier and chose to develop Montgomery Square, a small parcel in Federal Hill that had been dormant for 10 years.

McDaniels provided the design direction for the project, calling for 45 townhouses that harmonized with the adjacent historic houses but also gave the buyer modern conveniences, most importantly, a garage built within the unit. The units were smash with the public. It was a marketing philosophy he would apply to Spicer's Run.

Joining forces

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