Written by Erica Stewart
A crowd of 50 supporters, partners and residents gathered recently to help welcome the reinvented Professional Arts Building back to Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood. Once a thriving hub for the dental and medical trades, the eight-story, 1927 building on Reed Street was vacant and poorly maintained for several years. Thanks to the shared vision of Somerset Development and joint venture partner, NAGE Housing, Inc., the historic office building now houses 96 modern, light-filled rental units—all of which are affordable to individuals earning between 80 and 120% of Area Median Income.
In a ceremony officiated by Congressman Elijah Cummings and Mayor Sheila Dixon, the building’s transformation was unveiled. Though the use of the building is a departure from its past, ties to the building’s previous life are visible throughout. The project utilized state and federal historic tax credits, ensuring that its character-defining features would remain. Thus, the ceramic wall tiles that surrounded the dentist chairs remain, original office doors have been retained, and a lobby marquee still shows the names and floor locations of the professionals who last occupied the property.
The potential impact of the Professional Arts Building on the neighborhood is exciting. The Mount Vernon neighborhood is a great place to call home—rich in historic commercial buildings, brick rowhouses and shady streets, but its entertainment and shopping options—amenities that city-dwellers have come to expect—are limited. What the neighborhood does have is ideal access to public transportation and proximity to arts institutions. The Professional Arts Building sits just a block and a half from Baltimore’s light rail, subway, train, and bus lines. It is also convenient to the Walters Art Museum, Maryland Institute College of Art, University of Baltimore and Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. It is hoped that the Professional Arts Building, as Mount Vernon’s first high-rise historic multifamily apartment project, will spur the development of additional projects that will attract a critical mass of residents needed to sustain the retail and commercial establishments the neighborhood is currently lacking.
The National Trust Community Investment Corporation (NTCIC) —the for-profit subsidiary of the National Trust—is doing its part to help make that vision a reality. NTCIC partnered with Citibank to make a $4.5 million equity investment in the project to help catalyze the neighborhood’s revitalization. NTCIC is the federal historic tax credit syndicator, a transaction that transfers the federal historic tax credits to Citibank to defray its tax liability in exchange for essential cash resources to the project during its development. NTCIC’s involvement in the Professional Arts Building represents its sixth closed or committed equity investment in Baltimore, totaling $52 million.
Though no longer a medical building where generations of Baltimoreans had their teeth cleaned and their pulse checked, the Professional Arts Building—in its new role as multifamily residential building—is as essential as ever to the health of the neighborhood and City of Baltimore. And best of all? No Novocain needed.
Erica Stewart is the outreach coordinator for the Community Revitalization department at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.