Tax credit to enable restoration of 2 historic buildings in Pigtown

Neighborhood group behind the renovations

March 08, 2002|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

A City Council committee's decision to grant historic status to a vacant, two-story firehouse at 906 Washington Blvd. has cleared the way for a $1.13 million renovation project in Southwest Baltimore.

The Urban and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee's ruling also allows the project's developers, the Washington Village Pigtown Neighborhood Planning Council, to sell $200,000 in tax credits needed to finance the project. The City Council is expected to grant final approval of the historic designation this month.

In addition to renovating the firehouse, the agency plans to redesign its offices in old Bath House No. 2 at 904 Washington Blvd. The firehouse and the bathhouse have a long history in Pigtown, dating to the late-19th and early-20th centuries.

Chris Ryer, the neighborhood council's executive director, said the expansion will enable it to consolidate services under one roof and provide additional help to addicts, high school dropouts and residents looking for work. The redesigned office space will give counselors a measure of privacy they haven't had in years.

"The walls will go to the ceiling. You don't know what a big deal that is to have a room," Ryer said. "People come in with some pretty incredible problems and issues, and they're very private, and you need private space to talk."

A $400,000 bond bill for the project is before the General Assembly. The House Appropriations Committee and Senate Budget and Taxation Committee are scheduled to take up the bill this month. Ryer would not predict the bill's chances, given the state's financial situation and political battles over redistricting.

"It's not a good year in the General Assembly," he said.

The abandoned fire station dates from 1872 and cost $12,000 to build. It was home to Engine No. 10, until that company moved in 1952. Years later, it was used as an Enoch Pratt Free Library branch.

The building was heavily damaged in 1986 during a nine-alarm fire that raged through the Koppers Co. property across the alley on Scott Street. Passers-by can stand outside the building and see the sky through its roof.

The old bathhouse, home to the council's headquarters, was completed in 1902 for $27,000. It was built to improve public sanitation in Baltimore at a time when much of the city's housing lacked indoor plumbing.

Henry Walters, benefactor of the Walters Art Gallery, helped address the city's needs by paying for three public bathhouses - all strictly for the segregated city's white population. Eventually, four were built. Public Bath No. 2 closed in 1959.

Since then, the area has suffered from enormous social problems. The council's bond bill proposal states that nearly 60 percent of the neighborhood youth drop out of high school or middle school, 33 percent of the households have annual incomes of less than $15,000 and nearly half of the children live below the poverty level.

"The good thing about Washington Village is it really is a neighborhood. People have lived there a long time," Ryer said. "There's a coherence to it that isn't there in a lot of poorer city neighborhoods."

Financing the project has been helped along by a $100,000 loan from Bank of America that will enable construction to begin in a few weeks.

Jack Danna, who manages the area's Main Street program, said the project would help stabilize and improve the struggling commercial strip along Washington Boulevard.

"Any development is good development," Danna said.

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