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What's Next for North Avenue?

Carolyn Frenkil, co-owner of North Avenue Market
Carolyn Frenkil, co-owner of North Avenue Market - Steve Ruark
Editors note:
BmoreMedia ran a story in January highlighting new businesses that have opened in the Station North Arts and Entertainment District. Now, we check back in with Station North, which the Washington Post called Baltimore’s new “it neighborhood,” thanks to mural project Open Walls Baltimore.
This time, we home in on North Avenue, a street that was once a bustling thoroughfare but has seen its share of struggles in recent years.

 
North Avenue, like much of the Station North Arts and Entertainment District, gets a lot of its buzz from its nightlife and reputation for a thriving underground arts scene. Poetry readings at the Windup Space, music and pizza at Joe Squared, a play at Single Carrot Theatre or a drink at Liam Flynn’s Ale House might be a typical night out for twenty-and-thirty-something hipsters.

But the area’s advocates say North Avenue needs to give people a reason to come to the neighborhood during the day if they want to erase the perception among older folks that the area offers nothing but crime and urban blight. Property owners who are redeveloping several key buildings along North Avenue hope to bring more daytime traffic with cafes, shops, classrooms, artists studios, performance spaces and startup tech companies. 

The Maryland Institute College of Art has just snatched up another building in Station North, which it plans to renovate for around $5 million and use for its expanding graduate programs, MICA President Fred Lazarus says. This building will connect with its graduate student building Studio Center, whose $20 million renovation wraps up this month. The school's expanded presence in the neighborhood will be one of the area's biggest catalysts, area leaders say. 

Down the street, building owners Carolyn Frenkil and Mike Shecter are spending $1 million to renovate the North Avenue Market and are talking to the owners of a local café and bookstore, an ice cream shop and other tenants. Developer Jubilee Baltimore Inc. has just hired a project manager to spearhead a renovation of a historic Art Deco-style building and the Baltimore Development Corp. has received three proposals for the redevelopment of the Parkway Theatre.

It will take a year – or years -- before many of these projects come to fruition. But once they do, area leaders hope that they can attract sizable tenants that generate excitement for the blocks between Howard and Greenmount Avenues, just as Tapas Teatro, the Charles and Everyman Theatre have done for the area a few blocks to the south. 

“You already had solid businesses south of North Avenue,” Frenkil says. 

Some events have already drawn attention to the thoroughfare. Baltimore's largest festival Artscape extended to North Avenue this year and several murals in Open Walls Baltimore are located on the street. 

“We’re aggressively reaching out to a broader audience,” says Joe McNeely, executive director of the Central Baltimore Partnership, a nonprofit leading the efforts to transform the area north of Penn Station.

But more work remains. Kevin Brown, co-owner of the Station North Arts Café & Gallery, says the street has “great pockets of poverty” mixed with “islands of excellence.”

“It’s not a place that’s quite reached that critical point where it’s happening on its own,” MICA’s Lazarus says. “It’s taking a tremendous amount of effort among a lot of people to make things happen.”

Still, a lot will happen, over the next several years. Here’s a look at some of the projects unfolding along North Avenue.
 
 
Studio Center, Maryland Institute College of Art
MICA is embarking on phase two of its ambitious plan to move its graduate programs to North Avenue, President Fred Lazarus says. It spent nearly $1.7 million to buy the 34,000-square-foot building at 1801-1809 Falls Rd., located directly behind Studio Center. The school has hired Ziger Snead Architects to design the building, which will take about a year. Renovations will begin in one year.

The building will house studios and classrooms and be connected by bridge to the existing Studio Center at 131 W. North Ave.  A café and auditorium will open in the building next month.
 
North Avenue Market
Carolyn Frenkil and Mike Shecter will begin their renovation of 16 W. North Ave. next month. Repairing the front of the roof, providing unique signs for each tenant, painting the stucco, restoring windows and adding new lighting are all part of the plan.

“You can’t tell a book by its cover, but if it has a nice cover, at least you will open it up,” Frenkil says.“You can’t tell a book by its cover, but if it has a nice cover, at least you will open it up,” - Carolyn Frenkil.

Design collaborative D Center Baltimore moved to North Avenue Market in June, taking up 3,000 square feet of space. Baltimore Print Studio is renovating and doubling its space to about 2,200 square feet by the end of next month.

After four years in the space, bookstore Cyclops will be leaving by the end of the month. Frenkil is talking to a prospective 5,000-square-foot bookstore and restaurant that she hopes will open next year. The building is also home to Liam Flynn’s Ale House, which opened last year. 

10 E. North Ave.
Developer Jubilee Baltimore Inc. has hired project manager Amy Bonitz, who has worked for Patrick Turner’s Westport development, to oversee this redevelopment. Jubilee President Charlie Duff estimates that renovating this former church will cost at least $10 million and take several years to complete. He is applying for state historic tax credits, which will hopefully pay for one-fifth of the project’s cost.

The redeveloped building could house artist studios, restaurants, performance space and software companies. BmoreMedia reported earlier this year that Single Carrot Theatre and Joe Squared are among the tenants looking at the 82-year-old, 67,000-square-foot building. 

Parkway Theatre
Three teams are bidding on the redevelopment of the Parkway at 3 W. North Ave., 1 W. North Ave. and 1820 N. Charles St.

The Maryland Film Festival and Cross Street Partners would transform the Parkway’s auditorium into a 419-seat film and music space and add two smaller theaters. It would also house a year-round office for the film festival. Toby Blumenthal and Samuel Polakoff would use the properties to hold live entertainment.

And Kevin Brown, Gregg Mason and David Sawyer would transform the theater into a digital and live entertainment venue with a newsstand, wine bar, spa, restaurant and fresh market. Brown says he believes the area needs a “full scale entertainment complex.” 
 
Load of Fun Studio
After subsidizing the 2,000-square-foot gallery for years, Load of Fun Studio Owner Sherwin Mark says he is soliciting proposals from other tenants. It could hold an IT co-working space, incubator, a retailer or a café, Marks says. The building’s tenants include Single Carrot Theatre, In-Flight Theater [see story], and hacker group Baltimore Node.
 
5 E. North Ave.
Sculptor Sergio Martinez is spending $150,000 on building renovations so he can house five artist studios and an art gallery. His plan is to gut the second and third floors, remove the asbestos and replace the windows and recycle as much material as he can. Next year, he hopes to begin a second phase with solar panels, a greenhouse and water cistern.
 

All photos by STEVE RUARK
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