The Unity Hall is intended to break down barriers that have traditionally divided the community and to build a healthy, safe neighborhood for all, by providing offices and working spaces for organizations offering programs beneficial to the community. It will be run on a non-profit basis which will be operated and overseen by BUH, Inc., as a private operating foundation, through a Master Lease with the owner, Memorial Apartments Corporation (MAC). The development of the Unity Hall as a Center for Community Arts, Education and Training is being done collaboratively with community input to create a common vision and commitment to serve the needs of the surrounding communities.
The building was originally built in 1964 as the Union Hall for Amalgamated Clothing & Textile Workers and, until several years ago, the Empowerment Temple Church ran community programs out of the building, which was called the Freddie Gray Center. The building has approximately 30,000 square feet on three levels. In recent years, the building has declined rapidly due to deferred maintenance and is in dire need of repair. MAC has entered into a development agreement with Somerset Development Company, LLC to acquire, renovate and transform this vacant deteriorating building into a Center for Community Arts, Education and Job-Training. Once renovated, the Unity Hall will bring neighbors from the surrounding communities in Central West Baltimore (Bolton Hill, Madison Park, and Upton) together through cultural and educational activities, and job-training programs.
The Unity Hall will provide affordable office spaces for community-oriented programs providing such services as employment training, after school programming, mental health services, support for single mothers and referrals. In addition, the Unity Hall will provide a venue for local art exhibits, music lessons and performances, and other community meetings and events. Renovation of a commercial kitchen on the lower level will create a venue for a local catering operation and culinary arts training, which will provide real world experience for those seeking employment in the hospitality industry. An auditorium will be host to community events and meetings, training and education sessions, arts and cultural events and exhibitions. There will be six artist studios, spaces for co-worker for up to 15 people, and a group of professional musicians will music lessons to underserved youth from the surrounding neighborhood.
A Unity Hall Advisory Board has been created to advise MAC, the non-profit 501c3 owner of the building and their development partner Somerset, which leading the design and development aspects of the building renovation. The Advisory Board is made up of key stakeholders and community members: Ashiah Parker of No Boundaries Coalition, the Reverend Grey Maggiano of the Memorial Episcopal Church and on the MAC Board; Ateira Griffin of Building Our Nation’s Daughters (BOND), Washina Ford of The Community Builders(TCB), Patty Sipes of Maryland Center for Hospitality Training, Tracey Bennett of Integrity Health Services, Jeremy Lyons of Pique Collective, Eric Somerville of the YMCA, Nancy Hooff, Jim Campbell, and Jake Stern of Somerset Development Company, and Jessica Wyatt, an independent Community Engagement Specialist.
The development team has stabilized the building by repairing the roof and waterproofed where necessary, remediated hazardous materials and completed interior demolition. The development team is working with architectural firm, Ziger Snead for design development and Southway Builders for value engineering. Construction drawings are now complete. Start of construction is anticipated in early 2021 with completion in fall of 2021, when BUH, Inc. will take oversight responsibilities of day-to-day operations.
To date, the development team has received seven Letters of Intent to locate at the Unity Hall from community organizations committed to the provision of services such as employment training, after school programming, mental health services, support to single mothers, and referrals. In addition to the financial contributions made by MAC and Somerset, the Unity Hall partnership is seeking to leverage its already significant investment in the building with other financial partners who are interested in joining forces to contribute this important community development in Central West Baltimore.
The Community Builders, BOND, No Boundaries Coalition, Pique Collective, Integrity Health Services, Maryland Center for Hospitality Training and Single Carrot Theatre have signed Letters of Intent. Interest and commitment to the redevelopment of the Unity Hall has remained strong throughout the pandemic, reflective of the strong commitment and need for community development in West Central Baltimore.