City ads moving on D.C. dwellers

Affordable urban housing aims to lure commuters from Washington homes

`Targeted, focused marketing'

April 25, 2002|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Beneath pictures of a lovely urban park and a four-story brick Victorian townhouse, the print advertisement teases, "You thought you'd never afford something this great in D.C."

"You were right."

The ad, part of a campaign starting today in Washington publications, shows Baltimore's Mount Vernon, one of the city neighborhoods promoted in a new marketing effort aimed at enticing Washingtonians to move here and ride the train to work.

The $80,000 civic sales pitch is the first in 20 years aimed at Baltimore's neighbors to the south, said Tracy Gosson, director of the nonprofit Live Baltimore Marketing Center. The pitch is twofold: Buy an inexpensive house and still be near culture and entertainment.

"Have a quality of life you dream about in D.C. but can actually afford here" is how Gosson put it.

More than 2,800 people commute from Baltimore to Washington by MARC train, according to the Maryland Transit Administration. Others use Amtrak or drive.

The new effort is meant to increase that number by encouraging people to buy homes along a two-mile corridor from Centre Street to 33rd Street. It is a diverse area with varying degrees of stability but a common element: nearness to Pennsylvania Station, one of three stations with commuter rail service to Washington.

MTA is offering free three-month MARC passes worth $400 to homebuyers pulled in by the campaign. But the primary lure is the housing. Midtown has roomy, distinctive and solid structures that may need work but hold promise.

The target market is young professionals, including gay couples and singles, said Live Baltimore's Erin Miller. The ads, paid for by a grant from the Morris Goldseker Foundation, will run in Washington City Paper, The Washington Blade and the Intowner. Similar messages will greet riders at 11 Metro stops, including Dupont Circle.

"It's very targeted, focused marketing in a way to, we hope, attract people to some good values and terrific neighborhoods," said Tim Armbruster, Goldseker Foundation president and chief executive officer.

The ads were produced by the Gilden Integrated agency in Hampden and use what Miller calls "edgy" slogans. "Happiness is measured in square feet," reads one. "Completely stripped and ready for you to have your way with it," says another.

The spots also highlight specific houses. One in the 2400 block of Guilford Ave. has "great rehab potential" and is "a short walk to Penn Station."

"The fact people can commute on the train is a very attractive proposition," said Sandy Sparks, executive director of the Midtown Community Benefits District. The special tax district -- which includes Bolton Hill, Charles North and Mount Vernon -- is working with the Charles Village Benefits District to attract Washingtonians to the Baltimore areas.

If there is a model for the type of person organizers hope to attract, it may be 33-year-old F.T. Burden. Three years ago, while living and working in Washington, he visited Baltimore after seeing a real estate ad in The Sun.

The day he saw the four-story, six-bedroom house in the 1900 block of St. Paul St., he put a contract on it. "I was astounded. It needed work, but I walked two blocks, got on the train and commuted in," he said. And the asking price of just more than $50,000 was "phenomenal," he said. He has since put $100,000 into it, using historic tax credits to offset the cost.

He rents out his house in Washington, which is half the size but worth $300,000. And he has found a job in Baltimore.

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