Building and Strengthening Neighborhoods and People

Maryland Daily Record: Trump administration chips in $1.6M for Hoen & Co. Lithograph Building

By: Adam Bednar Daily Record Business Writer June 10, 2019

John C. Fleming, U.S. assistant secretary of commerce for economic development, says the Hoen & Co. project could help revitalize that section of east Baltimore. (The Daily Record/Adam Bednar)

Bill Struever, CEO of Cross Street Partners, has delivered a litany of adaptive reuses of historic buildings in his 45 year career as a developer. Overhauling the Hoen & Co. Lithograph Building in east Baltimore ranks among the most complicated.

Cross Street Partners, working with collaborators Strong City Baltimore and City Life Community Builders, is converting the east Baltimore industrial property, shuttered since 1981, into a mixed-use project including nonprofit offices and a workforce training center. Redevelopment of the building, which dates back to the 1890s, is expected to cost roughly $29 million.

“This would be up there in terms of complications. I think we had 17 different sources of funds that had to come into this, and we’re still working at it,” Struever said with a laugh. “We’re not done putting all the money together, so it’s a great adventure and not for the faint of heart.”

The U.S. Department of Commerce via its Economic Development Administration can now be counted among the funding sources. The federal agency said Monday it is providing $1.6 million to City Life Community Builders for infrastructure work at the Hoen & Co. complex.

Federal money, which will be matched with $1.1 million in local funds, will be used to build adequate water, storm, sewer and sanitary infrastructure for the project. The commerce department anticipates the overhaul of the complex will create 100 jobs and spur $43 million in private investment.

The 85,000-square-foot Hoen & Co. Lithograph Building complex is slated to open in early 2020 as the Center for Neighborhood Innovation.

Strong City Baltimore will serve as the anchor tenant with its office and Adult Learning Center at the property. Associated Builders and Contractors-Baltimore also plans to run the city’s largest construction workforce training and job placement center.

Neighborhoods around the lithograph building, such as Collington Square, have struggled with disinvestment and vacant properties in recent decades. A host of new investment, in part spurred by growth just to the south surrounding the Johns Hopkins Medical Campus, is offering signs of revitalization for the area.

American Communities Trust is investing $23.5 million to turn the old Eastern Pumping Station into the Baltimore Food Hub a few blocks away. Southern Baptist Church continues pursuing new developments in the area after the completion of the Mary Harvin Center.

John C. Fleming, U.S. assistant secretary of commerce for economic development,  touted the potential to attract additional private investment to east Baltimore because of its location in an opportunity zone. Opportunity zones, created as part of the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, encourage investors to reinvest capital gains in designated struggling census tracts. Maryland has 149 such zones with more than 40 in Baltimore.

The zones offer investors incentives, such as deferring taxes on capital gains until 2026. The top incentive for these investments, made through a qualified opportunity zone fund, come at the 10-year mark. At that point the lender avoids paying capital gains taxes from appreciation on the initial investment.

“Under the opportunity zones you can mitigate, or avoid all together, the taxes on your investment, which not only creates a return on investment for you financially, but also socially. Think of all the great social things we can do with your money that is invested in opportunity zones,” Fleming said.

Critics of the zones say they amount to little more than tax shelters for urban areas already poised to attract investments without any incentives. Activists also argue opportunity zone investments increase potential to displace residents from communities.

Karen Stokes, executive director of the nonprofit Strong City Baltimore, said the Hoen & Co. Lithograph Building represents an opportunity for her 50-year-old organization to bring new life to the neighborhood and maintain east Baltimore’s working-class roots.

Serving as an anchor tenant with the potential for an ownership stake allows Strong City Baltimore to play a role in the neighborhood’s revitalization, she said. The nonprofit, originally the Greater Homewood Community Corp., envisions the area as a place where people working jobs as custodians and nurses aides at Johns Hopkins can buy a home for $125,000 to $160,000. “Our vision is very much about returning this to a working-class neighborhood,” Stokes said.

Despite the complicated finances, Struever remained excited by the potential for the lithograph building complex. Struever, whose adaptive reuse projects range from east Baltimore’s American Brewery building to the Boston Red Sox’s Fenway Park, remaines excited about the Hoen & Co. building’s potential. “This is going to be a rock star among adaptive reuse projects,” Struever said.

Developers, government officials and civic leaders were at the Hoen & Co. Lithograph Building project Monday to announce federal funding. (The Daily Record/Adam Bednar)

Completion of Hoen Project Gets a Boost With $1.6 Million Federal Infrastructure Grant

Monday, June 10 was an exciting day at the Hoen Lithograph Building in East Baltimore. The former industrial complex that will serve as Strong City’s future home was packed with developers, nonprofit workers, and community leaders to celebrate an infusion of $1.6 million in federal funds to help complete the project. The U.S. Economic Development Administration grant to provide adequate water, storm, and sanitary sewer infrastructure will be matched with $1.1 million from Baltimore City’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

Mayor Jack Young recalled growing up near the Hoen Building when it was “bustling with workers” before closing nearly 40 years ago. “This is going to be a real community hub here in East Baltimore, and it’s vitally needed,” the mayor said.

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen praised the project as an exemplary public-private partnership, with investments from the city, state, and federal governments. “Karen Stokes and her team are going to help make sure this is a center of new activity for this neighborhood,” Van Hollen said. “We want to bring entrepreneurs back here, investors, and community leaders. We have all the ingredients to make this a successful enterprise for East Baltimore.”

Lifelong Collington Square resident Ella Durant, who heads the local neighborhood association and also sits on Strong City’s Board, noted that the nonprofits Strong City and City Life Community Builders have been careful to put the concerns and needs of residents first. “They did not come into this neighborhood to tell us what to do,” Durant said. “They came and asked us what we needed and told us what they could do.”

“This is a really amazing project for us,” said Strong City CEO Karen D. Stokes. “Strong City is delighted to be part of this beautiful building. But this project will not be successful if it’s just a building. We work on community organizing and civic engagement. We’re creating a Center for Neighborhood Innovation here. That’s about transforming a neighborhood, but it’s also about transforming lives. I’m so excited that on January 2, we will be open for business.”

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce John Fleming brought “greetings from the Trump administration” and announced the grant of $1.6 million to the Hoen project from the Economic Development Administration. “We’re excited to be here, and you should be very proud of what’s going on here,” Fleming said. “We look forward to partnering with you in the future.”

When the renovation is completed, the complex will open as the Center for Neighborhood Innovation, with Strong City as the anchor tenant. Associated Builders and Contractors-Baltimore will establish its Construction Training Academy in one of the complex’s former warehouses, which Bill Struever of Cross Street Partners said will be “the largest concentration of building trades apprenticeship programs in Maryland.” Cross Street Partners and City Life Community Builders will also occupy the complex, along with other tenants. Strong City is in a long-term arrangement to eventually become the building’s owner.

Monday’s event attracted significant news coverage, including segments on several local TV stations and articles in the Baltimore Business Journal, Maryland Daily Record, and Baltimore Fishbowl.


Monumental Achievement: FORCE Brings Monument Quilt to D.C. for First-Ever Display of All 3,000 Survival Stories

Years of work, hundreds of volunteers, and thousands of stories of trauma and survival came together from May 31 to June 2 on the National Mall in Washington with the culminating public display of the Monument Quilt by Baltimore-based FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture. FORCE, a fiscally sponsored project of Strong City Baltimore, collected 3,000 stories by survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence and their allies, which were written,
painted, and stitched onto red fabric and displayed for the world to see. Hannah Brancato, a co-founder of FORCE, reflected on the success of the project, which she estimated drew tens of thousands of onlookers who viewed the Quilt in person and hundreds of thousands who saw it or read about it in the media. “It’s bittersweet, because we worked really hard to create this space, and it felt really peaceful and supportive all weekend. And now it’s over, and the work is: How do we create this space without having 3,000 quilts and a complicated art display that costs a lot of money?”

Kalima Young, a member of FORCE’s leadership team, added, “One of the things that is very, very apparent is, this feels like the right time to bring all of these elements together and make the magic happen. We see and can constantly feel how much work it has been. All of us feel very proud and centered around it all.”

The Monument Quilt was launched in 2013, and FORCE has partnered with over 100 organizations across the U.S. and in Mexico, to organize 49 Quilt displays in 33 different cities. However, the National Mall display is the only time that the Quilt has been displayed in its entirety. It is the first national monument to survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence.


Two women from Minnesota who gave their names as Brittany and Bonnie were impressed by what they saw. They had heard about the Monument Quilt just the night before and decided to take a look shortly before the closing ceremony on the afternoon of June 2. “It’s nice to see how spanning the project is,” Brittany said. “I saw one panel that was talking about sex work … it seems to touch on a lot of issues within the realm of sexual safety and freedom.”

Hannah Brancato shared the story of a college student named Rose Piscuskas who travelled by bus from Boston to see the quilt square she had created three years ago during a workshop in Maine. “It was incredibly powerful for me to see the immense amount of physical space that the quilt took up,” Ms. Piscuskas said. “This conversation about rape, sexual assault, treatment of victims in the judicial system, and trauma is one that is so often had in private, small spaces. It was liberating for me to see it take up so much space and demand the attention that it deserves. … I am so grateful for the opportunity to have been part of such an amazing project that has successfully created a resilient, connected, and compassionate community.”

The project has received significant news coverage, including this recent article in the Washington Post. The app that was created for the event is still live as an archive of all of the quilts and can be accessed at:

A video clip from the Monument Quilt closing ceremony can be found here.


Maryland Odyssey Project Brings Classic Text to Life, Inspires Creative Responses by Baltimore Students

It took almost 3,000 years for a female scholar to translate one of Western literature’s most famous stories into English, but it hasn’t taken long for Emily Wilson’s version of The Odyssey to make a big impact in a handful of local public high schools.

Wilson’s recent translation of The Odyssey is helping bring Homer’s epic to life for a new generation of readers with a perspective reviewers describe as accessible and “refreshingly modern.” Now, the Maryland Odyssey Project – a fiscally sponsored project of Strong City – has made this fresh take on a classic available to local students, who are approaching the text in innovative ways.

The force behind the Maryland Odyssey Project is Amy Bernstein, an independent consultant and self-described “socialpreneur” who specializes in discovering and developing artistic and cultural projects. Back in 2017, Bernstein was reading about Wilson’s translation in The New York Times and was inspired “to take a modern, accessible translation of an epic text that a lot of kids study anyway, and give them access to something that seemed more relevant.”

With Strong City’s backing, Bernstein began writing grants which she says “succeeded beyond expectations,” winning funding from Maryland Humanities, the Onassis Foundation USA, the Society for Classical Studies, and the Mitzvah Fund for Good Deeds (administered by the Baltimore Community Foundation). The grants have allowed the Maryland Odyssey Project to place the books in three schools so far, reaching 132 students in grades 9, 10, and 11 at Bard Early College High School and City Neighbors high schools in Baltimore City, and Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Baltimore County.

The Odyssey tells the story of the warrior-king Odysseus and his 10-year journey home to Ithaca after the Trojan War, encountering many adventures and dangers along the way. The poet Homer’s epic tale has been rendered into English about 60 times over the centuries, but this version by Wilson – a British classicist based at the University of Pennsylvania – is the first such translation by a woman.

“There’s so much that Emily Wilson brings to the text – for example, she talks more openly about enslaved people, and women’s ability to make their own decisions,” Bernstein says. “She’s still working with what’s in the original, but every translator puts it through their own lens, making choices. Also, she wrote the whole thing in iambic pentameter, which is much closer to modern-day speech.”

Although the Maryland Odyssey Project does not prescribe a specific curriculum for teaching The Odyssey, Bernstein says high school students have responded to Wilson’s translation in a variety of creative ways. Students at Bard Early College were inspired to develop a mashup up of The Odyssey with the Broadway musical sensation Hamilton, which can be seen in this video. At City Neighbors, students responded to the text by creating a series of cartoons. And at Carver, students did a rap-like performance reminiscent of the cadences of Greek chorus.

“It’s definitely the translation for our age, and the students have really found their way into the material,” Bernstein says.

The Maryland Odyssey Project was launched in October 2018 with a reading by Emily Wilson at the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s Govans Branch to a packed house that included students, teachers, and a panel of classics scholars from Johns Hopkins University, Morgan State University, and McDaniel College. The project got another big boost when it was featured in the Winter 2019 edition of Humanities, the magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Bernstein says the fiscal sponsorship provided by Strong City makes possible the work of cultural entrepreneurs such as herself. “Strong City really opens the door to opportunity for culture-makers like me, who couldn’t otherwise do the work we’re trying to do,” she says. “Their support has emboldened me to embark on even more ambitious work. It’s a tremendous asset.”

Bernstein would love to see the Maryland Odyssey Project expand to additional schools and school systems, but does not currently have the means to make that happen. However, she’s excited that the three schools that now have the books will be able to use them to expose new students to Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey year after year.



Middle-School Students From Guilford and Walter P. Carter Get a Taste of College Life at Loyola University Maryland

Last month, students from Guilford Elementary/Middle School and Walter P. Carter Elementary/Middle School visited nearby Loyola University Maryland. Annie Weber, Strong City’s Community School Site Coordinator based at Guilford, helped to arrange the trip, which included a mock college class, interactions with Loyola students and professors, lunch in the cafeteria, and a tour of the academic buildings and dorms. (Loyola was one of Strong City’s founding institutions in 1969, and the two organizations have been strong partners ever since.)

London Bottom, 13, a seventh-grader, wants to be a doctor or lawyer. She was impressed with the Loyola campus, which she had never visited before. “It’s a nice, free space for if you ever want to go bike riding around there, or have an early morning jog,” she says. “I liked the cafeteria – the food was good. And the dorm rooms are great.”

For Reginald Qualls, 12, the visit to Loyola – including learning about chemical interactions in a science class – changed how he thinks about his future, and may even have inspired a career goal. Although the sixth-grader is still a couple of years away from high school, he is already giving serious thought to what comes after.

“I might apply there,” Reginald says of Loyola. “Before, I didn’t really think about going to college – I thought about doing a trade. But from experiencing that [visit], I think I might want to go to college.” What would he want to study there? “Science, to be a chemistry teacher,” he says.

Tashawn Walker also really enjoyed his visit to Loyola, but one thing he noticed on campus surprised him: “They have a church there. I’ve been to a couple of colleges … I never knew colleges could have churches.” Something else Tashawn came to realize, from chatting with students in Loyola’s cafeteria, was how much independence college students need to have. “In college, you’ve got to start doing stuff on your own. You have a lot of responsibility,” he says.

Community School Coordinators work to connect students and families to resources in the community, improve family engagement, and build relationships. Strong City currently employs Community School Coordinators at Guilford Elementary/Middle School, Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle School, and Govans Elementary School.

“Helping to connect our students to enrichment opportunities like this one at Loyola University is something that students will remember when it comes time for them to apply for college,” Annie Weber says. “We’ve been so lucky to have such a close partnership with Loyola to help us expose students to college and career options early-on.”

Starting in 2021, students from Guilford and Walter P. Carter are scheduled to begin attending a newly built school under the 21st Century Schools program, a $1 billion school construction plan that Strong City helped advocate for through the Baltimore Education Coalition.