Terra Nova Ventures' $19 million Clipper Mill Road project moves forward

December 05, 2013|By Natalie Sherman

Plans to turn a long, thin former cotton mill on the Jones Falls into apartments, offices and shopping space moved forward Wednesday, with a City Council committee endorsing a zoning change to enable Terra Nova Ventures' $19 million project on Clipper Mill Road.

Terra Nova Ventures would convert the Whitehall Cotton Mill site into 27 apartments, about 25,000 sqare feet of office space, and 20,000 square feet of first-floor shopping, an area roughly twice the size of Belvedere Square. The design also reserves space for a 6,000-square-foot restaurant with a terrace overlooking the Jones Falls.

Terra Nova Ventures founder David Tufaro, who completed a $44 million renovation of Mill No. 1 earlier this year, said the Whitehall Cotton Mill redevelopment will contribute to the transformation of the Jones Falls valley, a former industrial zone dotted with once deteriorating properties that now house trendy restaurants, residences and coffeeshops.

The conversions have lifted the area's economic profile to such an extent that income data collected for the 2010 census made the Whitehall project ineligible for the Treasury Department's new markets tax credit program, which is reserved for low-income areas, Tufaro said.

"The bad news for us is with the new 2010 census data, it's no longer distressed," he said. "The good news is that development has ocurred in the area over time ... That's the goal we're trying to achieve."

Tufaro said he hopes to work out financing and start construction on the 3300 Clipper Mill Road site in the early part of 2014. The full council will have final say over the project in January. 

The property, located downstream from beer and pizza place Birroteca, is currently owned by KOMAR Properties II Limited Partnership and hosts a warehouse used by Komar Co. Inc., a wholesale distributor of adult toys and novelties. 

The mill, at one time a warehouse for Pelican books, is located in the floodplain in an area that would typically be barred from development. Exceptions can be granted in the case of historic buildings, said Eric Tiso, a representative of the Planning Department.

"We have interest in historic buildings, in redeveloping them and having them in productive use," Tiso told the council's Land Use and Transportation committee.

The council bill outlaws residential apartments on the first floor. Due to city concerns that residents could be trapped in the building during a flood, Tufaro also added a pedestrian bridge that crosses from the second floor over Clipper Mill Road and connects to higher ground.

Preliminary designs show a covered wooden structure that Tufaro said will cost about $65,000. Final designs must receive Planning Commission approval.  

"Risks often have opportunities," Tufaro said. "The building has survived 150 years so that's proof of the way (they) were designed." 

Terra Nova Ventures has not yet found tenants for the building, said consultant Al Barry of AB Associates. Tufaro said he is working with local company William Jackson Ewing, whose founders participated in the remaking of Boston's Faneuil Hall and Harborplace, to find the right mix of shops to locate on the first floor. 

The project is eligible for up to $6 million in state and federal historic tax credits, Tufaro said. The state's awards should be announced in about a month, he said.

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