Mill slated to become a home for artists

Struever aims to rebuild site destroyed in fatal fire

January 30, 2003|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

A 19th-century Baltimore mill that once hummed with sailcloth-making machines and factory workers may be getting a new lease on life, as a city developer has pledged to rebuild its charred ruins into a housing and artist community.

The Clipper Mill industrial park, tucked away by the Jones Falls near the expressway of the same name, was ravaged by a blaze in 1995 that killed a firefighter, destroyed the sprawling complex and put nearly two dozen artists out of their studios. After lying dormant for much of the past seven years, the 17-acre site is now the focus of an ambitious redevelopment plan by C. William Struever.

Struever, of the Baltimore development firm of Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse, has proposed to invest $50 million to revitalize the property. City officials will hear a presentation of the project's master plan in a design advisory panel meeting today. A community meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 10 in the WJZ offices on TV Hill.

Struever said yesterday that new housing -- between 125 and 200 units -- would be the main element changing the somewhat isolated Clipper Mill land, which is bounded by railroad tracks and within walking distance of the Woodberry and Hampden neighborhoods.

The 150-year-old industrial property, which includes the shell of a well-known iron foundry, will be converted to a residential community and a cooperative hub for Baltimore artists, Struever said.

Praising the rich history and bucolic surroundings of Clipper Mill, Struever noted yesterday that the columns supporting the U.S. Capitol dome were made there. So were train locomotives and cotton material used to make sailing cloth later outfitted on clipper ships -- hence, the Clipper Mill's name.

"We are determined to save the majestic reminders and preserve the architecture that is there," Struever said. "We will respect its context, the magical forest and Druid Hill Park."

Fourth District City Councilwoman Catherine E. Pugh said she introduced legislation authorizing the use of the land because, she said, "There's not a lot of new development over there, especially of single-family dwellings. It's the right project for that area."

Also on the drawing board is a 51,000-square-foot structure planned as working and display space for artists and artisans, Struever said. "It would allow artists some form of ownership at affordable rates," he said. Stone and brick would most likely be the building materials for townhouses, detached homes and a small number of commercial offices, Struever said.

Struever, whose company has resuscitated other Baltimore factory areas such as the American Can Co. in Canton, said the Clipper Mill project would be the most "green" yet, in terms of environmental design and technologies.

The Woodberry light rail stop borders the site, which will make it attractive for public transit users, he said.

In addition, city greenways coordinator Beth Strommen said the next leg of a federally funded biking and hiking lane might be built to connect the Clipper Mill site to Pennsylvania Station and Druid Hill Park.

Woodberry community activists greeted the plans more cautiously.

"We think the project can work if Struever Bros. reduces traffic and housing density and works with us to make the light rail stop safer," said Tracy Brown, the Woodberry community representative on this issue.

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