Blighted East Baltimore land to become urban farm

Source: Baltimore Business Journal
Date: July 25, 2013
Byline: Kevin Litten

The Baltimore Development Corp. board on Thursday approved a land deal with the Baltimore Food Hub initiative that will bring an extensive urban farming operation to East Baltimore.

Under the deal, Baltimore Food Hub would pay the city $500,000 up front and $400,000 in a takeback mortgage for land and city-owned buildings at 1801 E Oliver St., property that is seen as a gateway to Baltimore for its proximity to train tracks used by Amtrak.

Deborah Devan, the BDC project review and oversight committee chairwoman, did not lay out details of the financial structure under the deal, citing a “confidential” document board members received. But Devan did say that city that “the developers are going to pay more than the value of the real estate,” adding, “we’re not giving the land away.”

“There is $3 million in revenue [for the city] after the project is fully built out and that’s a nice return for a property that is a blight and doesn’t generate anything” in taxes, Devan said.

Gregory Heller, a senior adviser with Philadelphia-based Econsult Solutions and the project’s developer, also declined to comment on the details of the deal.

The property includes several pumping stations that used to provide water to the city. Those historic structures will be renovated to include a commercial kitchen that will serve as a food incubator for small businesses, including caterers. Land surrounding those buildings will include portable greenhouses known as “hoop houses” along the train tracks running alongside the parcel.

Partnerships are planned with Woodberry Kitchen, a restaurant that is seeking local produce for its menu offerings, and the nonprofit Humanim, which is planning a community kitchen on the site.

Devan said the project will create 100 construction jobs and eventually 100 permanent jobs.

BDC President Brenda McKenzie said the project will also be beneficial to the city and the neighborhood by providing access to healthy foods through a farmers market planned for the site.

“It’s also important in terms of reactivating that part of East Baltimore,” McKenzie said. “There’s been a lot of research done that shows foodie culture is another way for people to look at the city differently.”

Board Chairman Arnold Williams added that “this development will go a long way in transitioning” the Broadway East and Oliver neighborhoods.