Baltimore Unity Hall
1505 Eutaw Place, Baltimore, MD 21217
Somerset Development Company, LLC and Memorial Apartments Corporation (MAC), a local non-profit organization, have partnered to acquire, renovate and transform the former Empowerment Temple, located at 1505 Eutaw Place, into a Center for Community Arts, Education and Job-Training. Once renovated, the Unity Hall will bring neighbors from the surrounding communities in Central West Baltimore (Upton, Madison Park, and Bolton Hill) together through cultural and educational programs, community events and services, and job-training programs. The building was originally built in 1964 as the Union Hall for Amalgamated Clothing & Textile Workers and, until several years ago, the Empowerment Temple Church ran community programs out of the building. The building has approximately 30,000 square feet on three levels. In recent years, the building has been vacant and has declined rapidly due to deferred maintenance and is in dire need of repair.
The Unity Hall will provide affordable office spaces for community-oriented programs providing such services as employment training, after school programming, mental health services, support to single mothers and referrals. In addition, the Unity Hall will provide a venue for local art exhibits, music lessons and performances, and other community meetings and events. Renovation of a commercial kitchen on the lower level will create a venue for a local catering operation and culinary arts training, which will provide a real world experience for those seeking employment in the restaurant industry. An auditorium will be host to community events and meetings, training and education sessions, arts and cultural events and exhibitions. In addition there will be 6 artist studios, spaces for co-working will accommodate up to 15 independent workers, and a group of professional musicians will provide music lessons to underserved youth in the surrounding neighborhood.
The development of the Unity Hall as a Center for Community Arts, Education and Training is being done collaboratively with community input to create a common vision and commitment to serve the needs of the surrounding communities. The Unity Hall is intended to break down barriers that have traditionally divided the community and to build a healthy, safe neighborhood for all, by providing offices and working spaces for organizations offering programs beneficial to the community. Our community of tenants and stakeholders will further economic development and social justice by maintaining an accessible and inclusive culture and physical space. It will be run on a non-profit basis.
A Unity Hall Advisory Committee has been created to advise MAC, the owner of the building and their development partner Somerset, which is leading the design and development aspects of the building renovation. The Advisory Committee is made up of key stakeholders and community members who have come together to create this common vision: Ashiah Parker of No Boundaries Coalition, the Reverend Grey Maggiano of the Memorial Episcopal Church and a Board member of MAC, Ateira Griffin of Building Our Nation’s Daughters (BOND), Washina Ford of The Community Builders, Jeremy Lyons and Stephanie Ray of the Baltimore Music Box, Eric Somerville of the YMCA, Nancy Hooff, Jim Campbell and Jake Stern of Somerset Development Company, and Jessica Wyatt, an independent Community Engagement Specialist.
MAC, a 501c3 non-profit, in collaboration with Somerset, a mission-driven for-profit firm, acquired the building in January 2019 and signed a development agreement to lead the design and development of the building. Previously, MAC and Somerset successfully partnered on two projects contiguous to the Unity Hall. The redevelopment of Linden Park Apartments (formerly the Memorial Apartments) preserved 266 units of affordable, senior housing and transformed the once dilapidated building into a state-of-the-art senior apartment building, rich in amenities and resident services. In addition, the partnership sub-divided the original Linden Park site in order to build a new apartment building called “The Jordan”, which has 62 units of market rate apartments with a ground floor restaurant called “The Tilted Row”. The Tilted Row, which opened in June of 2019, is already strengthening community ties in the neighborhood by serving as an important gathering place where neighbors convene.
The preservation of affordable housing for seniors at Linden Park and the new apartment units at The Jordan contributed to the realization of the vision of the neighborhood-based HUD Choice Neighborhoods planning process by creating mixed income housing and increasing access to retail. The redevelopment of the Unity Hall will further strengthen the neighborhood by adding important cultural amenities and services tailored for the needs of this underserved community.
At the Unity Hall, the development team has stabilized the building by repairing the roof, waterproofed where necessary, remediated hazardous materials and completed interior demolition. The development team is working with the architectural firm, Ziger Snead for design development and Southway Builders for value engineering. Construction drawings are now complete. Construction started in 2021 and is expected to be completed in early 2022.
To date, the development team has received five Letters of Intent to locate at the Unity Hall from community organizations committed to the provision of services such as employment training, dynamic after school programming, mental health services, support to single mothers, and referrals. In addition to the financial contributions made by MAC and Somerset, the Unity Hall partnership is seeking to leverage its already significant investment in the building with other financial partners who are interested in joining forces to provide to this important community center in Central West Baltimore.
To date, The Community Builders, BOND, No Boundaries Coalition, Baltimore Music Box, and Single Carrot Theatre have signed Letters of Intent. Interest and commitment to the redevelopment of the Unity Hall has remained strong throughout the pandemic, reflective of the strong commitment and need for community development in Central West Baltimore.