A pair of local entrepreneurs hopes a planned cultural arts center will bring new economic vitality to the Howard Street corridor.
Renwick Bass and his business partner, Dr. Larry Gaston, plan to open a 13,500-square-foot cultural center and banquet hall in a former bank building at the intersection of Howard and W. Mulberry Streets near downtown Baltimore. And three more could open in other parts of the city.
The pair plans to invest around $750,000 to turn the former Liberty Savings and Loan into a youth development and cultural arts center offering classes in the performing and fine arts. The pair also hope to partner with local theater groups, musicians, and dancers to host performances at the space. Shows will be accompanied by gourmet food catered by local businesses as well as the culinary arts program at Stratford University
, the former Baltimore International College. Art classes for seniors are also in the works, Bass says.
The pair plan to finance the center without outside funds, but are planning to fundraise and possibly partner with businesses to cover operating costs until the centers become profitable, Bass says.
The Downtown Cultural Arts Center is one of four cultural centers planned for Baltimore. Other center locations will be based on interest and need in the local community and locations have not yet been established, but Bass hopes to open additional centers in West, East, and Southeast Baltimore.
Renovations on the property are currently underway with a planned completion date in the next two weeks, but the property still needs approval from the city's zoning appeals board before opening.
Some of the renovations to the building include general cosmetic and electrical work, adding a dance floor and a stage, and installing a music production studio. Hiring for the center is currently underway, as Bass plays to hire 15 instructors to teach creative and performing arts classes.
A Baltimore native, Bass has honed his skills mentoring youth over the past 25 years. In 2006, Bass, along with two partners, founded a mentoring program, Blueprints for Youth, Inc.
that has operated within the Baltimore City Public Schools.
While not an artist himself, Bass encouraged his daughter to participate in the arts and saw an increased sense of focus. He became convinced that youth have a better chance of being successful if they participate in the arts.
Additionally, Bass observed a disparity in communities where families don't have the resources to send their children to expensive arts programs. One of the goals of the center is to make classes affordable for parents to send their children to get arts enrichment, Bass says.
Bass hopes that The Downtown Arts and Cultural Center is just the first part of major renovations and an influx of new businesses to Howard Street and in a section of the city that struggles with vacancy.
Bass and Gaston also own and operate The Shops at Charles and North
a retail location at 23 E. North Ave.
Bass believes that their business made a positive contribution to businesses along North Avenue, helping to attract additional business and contribute to the area’s revitalization. He hopes that now he can be part of a transformation of North Howard Street.
“The history of the arts and dance is in downtown Baltimore, and soon the whole of Howard Street will be revitalized,” Bass says.
The zoning appeal for the property will be held April 3. Bass hopes to open the center immediately following the hearing, if approved.
Source: Renwick Bass
Writer: Alexandra Wilding