Eight city-owned vacant lots in West Baltimore will soon be converted into a sprawling, 20,000-square-foot hub for artists and creatives in Baltimore, complete with studios, an events room and coworking spaces for rent.

The plans, unveiled Thursday at a city planning meeting, also will function as the headquarters for the Mayor’s Office of Cable and Communications, which includes CharmTV, the city’s cable television station. The project, overseen by the Baltimore Development Corp. and co-led by The Civic Group, has secured a roughly $8 million investment from the city from cable franchise fees. It’s not yet clear how much the site will cost.

City government officials said Thursday that the redevelopment along North Avenue will hopefully spur more activity in an underutilized part of the city, just a few blocks to the north of the site of the CVS Pharmacy that burned in 2015 during the unrest in response to the death of Freddie Gray from injuries sustained while in police custody.

The area — once home to a bustling and vibrant thoroughfare with music venues, shops and theaters — has been designed as the state’s only Black Arts and Entertainment District, making it eligible for certain subsidies and tax credits.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“Our headquarters belongs in the community,” said Maya Gilmore, executive director of cable and communications for CharmTV, in a Thursday statement. “With this new building, we will help shape the future of Penn North and broaden our impact on new partnerships and public engagement.”

Long in the works, the Black arts entertainment district officially received its state designation in 2019. The vision entails updating the corridor with improved streetscapes, lighting, branding and signage.

City officials said Thursday that the new artists’ hub will hopefully have a similar impact on Baltimore entrepreneurs, filmmakers and innovators as creative incubator sites have had on artists in other cities. Such examples include BRIC in Brooklyn; Austin Public in Texas; and PhillyCAM in Philadelphia.

A coalition composed of the Baltimore Arts Realty Corp., or BARCO, the Baltimore Development Corp. and PI.KL Studio presented the plans Thursday to the city’s Urban Design and Architectural Advisory Panel, which makes recommendations for the city’s Department of Planning to review during the permitting process. The panel’s chairperson, Pavlina Ilieva, is principal and co-founder of PI.KL Studio.

Former City Councilman Leon Pinkett, BARCO’s executive director, said during the presentation that the redevelopment will complement other ongoing projects in the district, including the revitalization of Avenue Market; improvements to the historic Arch Social Club; and the Billie Holiday Monument, which was rededicated in 2009. While a councilman, Pinkett sponsored the City Council resolution that designated the area as a Black Arts and Entertainment District.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Osborne Anthony, a member of the Urban Design and Architectural Advisory Panel and an architect, commended the team for launching a transformative effort in a “challenging” part of town, calling it “a framework to show how multiple components of a community can work.” And member Sharon Bradley, a registered landscape architect in Washington, D.C., lauded the site as an artistic expression of the effort’s goals and its “whimsical” design.

hallie.miller@thebaltimorebanner.com

Hallie Miller is a reporter at The Baltimore Banner, where she hopes to dive deep into the city's communities and highlight solutions. She is passionate about engaging readers and using new tools to tell stories. Hallie spent four years at The Baltimore Sun, where she helped lead the organization's medical coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. 

More From The Banner