Patterson Park sets multiuse project

Area around library to get stores, offices

May 15, 2007|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Sun reporter

The community development group that has renovated nearly 500 homes in Patterson Park over the last decade is embarking on its first mixed-use project, to include offices, shops and housing, in hopes of bringing back an old retail district and increasing the appeal of the Southeast Baltimore neighborhood.

The Patterson Park Community Development Corp. has begun work on the $6.5 million Library Square project, in which the mostly vacant buildings around a four-block triangular area will be transformed by 2009 into 8,000 square feet of shops, 6,000 square feet of offices and up to a dozen market-rate apartments, including four artist residences and studios.

The project will be bordered by Fayette Street, Pulaski Highway, Luzerne Avenue and Curley Street. Library Square will continue to be the home of the neighborhood branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Lib- rary.

Library Square is the biggest commercial undertaking ever tackled by the Patterson Park development agency, said Ed Rutkowski, executive director. Its past commercial projects have been limited to renovating single buildings that have been leased to businesses.

Rutkowski said that the project was a natural progression of the revival of a neighborhood that had struggled with middle-class flight, crime, drugs and vacant homes.

The Patterson Park development agency's success in buying and renovating houses helped to boost home ownership and values, especially as the city's housing market soared in recent years.

"I think that you need a certain level of discretionary income in a neighborhood before commercial can succeed," Rutkowski said. "What we do, it's the same as residential, you want to accelerate it and provide amenities for people moving into the neighborhood and make it more competitive. "

The first of the new businesses, including a barber shop and a laundromat, will open this summer. New office space for the Baltimore Curriculum Project, operator of several charter schools, will be completed by fall.

The Patterson Park group is negotiating with a Mexican restaurant operator and hopes to attract more food establishments, including carry-outs and a bakery, to cater to the urban neighborhood, said Bill Henry, the agency's director of commercial development. Henry said Library Square would include 16 of 27 buildings the agency has acquired. He said the group hopes to make the remaining properties available to private developers to bring in additional businesses.

Plans call for a mix of residential, business and office space. For instance, a row of buildings along Lakewood Avenue would have shops on the first floor, offices on the second and apartments on the third.

The group has been able to subsidize some of the cost with $495,000 in federal grants and about $700,000 in state grants.

"Neighborhood revitalization is more than simply restoring rowhouses, and included in that is making sure that services are provided to the community," said Del. Peter A. Hammen, a Baltimore Democrat who is chairman of the development corporation's board. "Commercial revitalization can bring back businesses and services to the area that had left when the community was moving in the wrong direction."

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