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Restaurants rise from the rubble in historic buildings

Bagby Pizza Co., left, and Fleet Street Kitchen
Bagby Pizza Co., left, and Fleet Street Kitchen - Steve Ruark
The average person wandering past one of Baltimore’s crumbling former mills along the Jones Falls Valley may not envision a restaurant rising up from the rubble some day. But Baltimore developer TerraNova Ventures LLC does.

“The fact that these buildings are still standing says a lot about how they were built to last,” says Terra Nova Development Manager Jennifer Tufaro Nolley. TerraNova is spearheading the $42 million redevelopment of the former Mount Vernon Mill, dubbed Mill No.1, and filling the space with offices, shops, 93 apartments and two restaurants.
TerraNova is one of many local developers who have a hand in turning historic Baltimore properties into unique restaurant spaces. Prior to the recession that hit Baltimore’s real market in 2008, many of the city’s oldest industrial buildings were converted into commercial space, including restaurants. Facing a sinking economy, a number of these adaptive reuse projects stalled or shuttered when banks halted credit due to unpaid debts.
Now local restaurant owners and developers are once again making use of the surplus of historic buildings along the East Coast and taking advantage of the exposed stone, brick ceilings and cast-iron columns that serve diners a slice of Baltimore history. Federal and state historic tax credits provide a strong incentive as well, allowing developers to recoup some of their investments.
“Adaptive reuse has been around for years,” says Baltimore architect Chris Pfaeffle. His projects include the former grain-elevator-turned-condo Silo Point and the former McHenry Theatre, which now houses Blue Agave Restaurant. “The Northeast and mid-Atlantic have a long history of reusing buildings. It’s part of the culture.”

Restaurateurs Tony Foreman and Cindy Wolf saw that potential that was overlooked in the former E.J. Cobb tool shop, which is now Pazo Restaurant in Harbor East.

“The ceilings are 60 feet high. The beams are rustic and industrial, exuding the ambience I wanted,” Foreman says.

Here’s a look at some of the new and upcoming restaurants that are breathing new life in former derelict buildings: The Tire Shop in Remington; the Holland Tack Factory, the Bagby Furniture Co. Building, and the Fallsway Spring building in Harbor East.

Project: The Holland Tack Factory
Location: 1300 Bank St., Baltimore, MD 21231
First restaurant opened: February 2012
Restaurant tenants: Heavy Seas Alehouse and My Thai

The Holland Tack Factory was once a hospital for wounded Confederates, and then the last major manufacturer of tacks and nails. Thick wooden beams buffered the deafening noise from the factory. Those beams now support two restaurants, My Thai, which opened in January, and Heavy Seas Alehouse, which opened in February 2012.

“Harbor East is expanding north, and rehabbing is a way to promote that movement,” My Thai Owner Brad Wales says.

“The Tack Factory is poised to be an anchor for the redevelopment of the Central Avenue corridor,” says Michael Morris, principal of Cana Development, the real estate firm leasing space in the building.
It can be easier and cheaper to convert properties than to build from the ground up. Recent economic problems have forced local developers to focus in their own backyards and re-establish the neighborhoods in which they live and work.

Project: The Bagby Furniture Co. Building
Location: 509-521 S. Exeter St., Baltimore, MD 21202
First restaurant open: October 2009
Restaurant tenants: Vino Rosina, Fleet Street Kitchen, TEN TEN, Bagby Pizza Company

The inside of The Bagby Furniture Company building is wall-to-wall brick, a reflection of its previous industrial life. The building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was constructed in 1902 at the corner of Fleet and Exeter Streets. After 112 years as a furniture factory, it was renovated to include Vino Rosina, Fleet Street Kitchen, TEN TEN, and Bagby Pizza Company.

“All four restaurants in the building are examples of how to utilize great basic structure by going with the architecture and building around it,” says Neil Tucker, a principal at Chesapeake Real Estate Group LLC, the Baltimore firm behind the Bagby redevelopment.  

David Smith, owner of the Bagby Restaurant Group, worked with his wife, Jane, to marry many of the original materials. They used rails from floor joists and extra columns and features from other historic spaces.

Fleet Street Kitchen, a contemporary American restaurant that opened last year, has a window that separates the upper and lower levels, so the Smiths put up a 10-foot iron railing that they found in Portland, Maine. The chandeliers in the restaurants originated from old mansions.

While there is aesthetic appeal, there are challenges around building in adaptive spaces. Tucker notes that the design and kitchen programming needs to work around quirky elements, ductwork and exhaust can be problematic, and fire codes need to be addressed.

Tucker doesn’t anticipate the adaptive reuse trend to continue in Baltimore much longer.

“The vast majority of the well-located, economically viable older industrial buildings have now been converted,” he says.

Project: The Tire Shop
Location: 2600 N. Howard St., Baltimore, MD 21218
First restaurant expected to open: TBD
Restaurant tenant: Unnamed butcher shop and restaurant owned by Spike Gjerde

A love for Remington drew Seawall Development Co. to adapt the former automotive shop at 2600 N. Howard Street.

“We believe that [Remington] will change over the next five to ten years,” says developer Evan Morville. “Seawall wants to be a part of that.”

Seawall has teamed with Spike and Amy Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen to bring a restaurant and butcher shop to the Tire Shop. The Gjerdes opened Artifact Coffee in Seawall’s Union Mill, another adaptive reuse project, and are excited to expand into Remington.  

"We think Remington is one of the great neighborhoods of the city,” Gjerde says. “The Tire Shop is a building with so much potential.” Single Carrot Theatre and Young Audiences of Maryland are the other tenants in the fully leased space.

Built in 1924 to store cars, the shop is 70-feet wide with a wall-to-wall roof truss and 30-foot ceilings. Windows and doors that were closed in with bricks will be exposed to highlight the historic structure. Seawall is working with Baltimore architect, Stuart Macklin, to design the 5,500-square-foot space.
Project: Fallsway Spring & Equipment Co.
Location: 443 S. Central Ave, Baltimore, MD 21202  
First restaurant expected to open: July 2013
Restaurant tenant: By Degrees Cafe

Developer Larry Silverstein invested in the Fallsway Spring building in 2007, just before much of the city’s real estate market took a nosedive. While it stood in a prime spot in Harbor East, Silverstein says he waited until the market rebounded before moving forward.

Omar Semidey, a former chef at The Wine Market and Fleet Street Kitchen, says he was drawn to the Fallsway building for its modern, industrial feel and plans to open the casual, contemporary By Degrees Cafe in July.

Since factories were designed to accommodate morning laborers, there are huge windows for light. By Degrees’ concrete floors will have radiant heating to warm the space, and Semidey’s team is working on designs to minimize sound pollution.

“Older buildings offer a degree of character that is difficult to replicate in new construction,” Silverstein says. “But there are challenges with retrofitting modern systems through very thick walls and heating and cooling large-volume spaces while complying with ever-changing building and fire codes.

Renee Libby Beck is a freelance writer and public relations manager for Medifast Inc. Renee is the Baltimore Food Examiner for Examiner.com and writes for other blogs and publications.

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