A Baltimore developer has bought a former Locust Point mill with plans to turn it into offices, apartments and shops, taking the formerly working-class neighborhood further down the road to gentrification.
Though some in the neighborhood still harbor nostalgia for the days when working factories defined the neighborhood, people now seem resigned to the community's evolution -- especially if it comes with a fancy grocery store.
About 100 residents packed a recreation center to hear developer Mark Sapperstein outline his plans recently. Most were upset, having heard earlier that he was thinking about bringing in Target.
As people waited in line to enter, some fired-up residents handed out fliers imploring them to say "NO! to big box retail."
But to most people's relief, Sapperstein told the crowd that the idea to bring in a big store like Target wasn't set in stone -- and that he is willing to work with the community to find a mix for the 9-acre site off Fort Avenue that everyone can live with.
"I like to get the flavor of what people are thinking," he said.
Initially, Sapperstein said he considered a Target or a Home Depot-type of store, perhaps combined with a boutique food market and some office space. Now he said he is leaning toward a combination of apartments, offices and smaller stores -- such as a high-end grocer.
"I saw that there was a strong need for retail and office space in this area," he said of the neighborhood. "This large parcel could clearly solve this issue."
Chesapeake Paperboard has been vacant for about five years since the plant closed. Before that, waste paper had been recycled into cardboard there since 1910.
Though Locust Point residents seem pleased that something is going to become of the property, they're also sad to see another blue-collar memory of South Baltimore reworked to accommodate upscale, professional living.
When the city recently reworked Locust Point's master plan, officials tagged the Chesapeake Paperboard property to remain industrial. Planning Director Otis Rolley III said that Locust Point residents at the time were adamant that the site not turn residential.
People seem to have gotten over the yuppie insurgence. They're more concerned now with stopping a huge store whose traffic might clog Fort Avenue.
Louise Alder, who grew up in the neighborhood and lives across Fort Avenue from the vacant mill, said she would love to see factory life return there -- but knows in her heart that it won't.
"We've had no takers and we're not going to have any takers. Our time to get industry to come here is over," she said. "That's very hard for the older people in Locust Point.
"Taking the former plant and putting it to multi-use is a wonderful plan."
Alder, like those handing out the fliers, doesn't want to see a big-box store there, though. She'd rather see stores to buy clothes and shoes, the upscale grocer Sapperstein mentioned, maybe a physician's practice.
"As people get older and aren't driving anymore, to be able to walk over and buy a new outfit, get gourmet groceries ... would be quite beneficial for me and for a lot of people," she said.
The next step for the redevelopment proposal is for the city to change the site's zoning from industrial to one that would allow for mixed use. Once Sapperstein's proposal gels, he will likely bring a planned-unit development plan before the city that would need to be approved by the City Council.
In the meantime, Sapperstein promises to lead a neighborhood task force to discuss what to build on the site. The developer is involved with a number of prominent city projects, including Silo Point, which would turn the site of a former Locust Point grain elevator into upscale townhouses and condos, and Cityscape, a $71 million luxury apartment building planned for downtown.
Locust Point Civic Association President Joyce Bauerle said that with Sapperstein actively seeking neighborhood opinions, it's critical for people to share them.
"It's up to you, you live here. It's up to you what you want," she told residents.
"We know what's going on down here, a lot of it good, a lot of it I really don't know about. It's become a community that in five years, we might not really know."