The 'Hood Gets
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the 70-year-old
Homewood Apartments complex is being reborn this fall as a
handsome cluster of Hopkins student apartments, university
offices and retail shops.
University officials and Charles Village leaders hope the $17.5 million renovation project, the latest in a series of Hopkins investments in the area just west of the Homewood campus, will also contribute to the rebirth of the neighborhood itself.
The transformation of the Homewood Apartments complex, located along the west side of Charles Street between East 30th and East 31st streets, began more than a year ago when the interior sections of the buildings were gutted to their bare walls and support beams. Then, construction crews began putting up new walls and installing modern utilities and furnishings.
Workers finished the 124 student apartments just in time for the beginning of the current school year. The new offices and shops are slated for completion during the coming months.
Elsewhere in Charles Village, private revitalization efforts are apparent. A local supermarket has been renovated, and two new restaurants are joining the community. These projects, along with the new retail shops in the Homewood Apartments, will make the business district just off campus a more appealing place for students, university employees and nearby residents to dine, shop or simply stroll, neighborhood boosters say.
"I think most people are excited about all of the development," said Dominic Wiker, economic development coordinator for the Charles Village Community Benefits District, which uses a self-imposed tax assessment to boost security and sanitation services over a 100-square-block area.
"This is a tremendous opportunity," he said. "With the St. Paul Street stores at one end and the Homewood Apartments stores at the other, we think this will really stretch out the business district. The vacancy rate is minuscule. People recognize that the area is upgrading itself."
The university has demonstrated its commitment to the revitalization of Charles Village with several other important projects unveiled in recent months.
First, Hopkins purchased a former church building at Charles Street and University Parkway for use as an interfaith and community center and to house several student service-oriented clubs and organizations. Soon afterward, the university announced the hiring of a leading New York architectural firm to design a 50,000-square-foot, $12 million student arts center, which will create a new "front door" to the Homewood campus at 33rd and Charles streets.
The massive renovation of the Homewood Apartments represents further proof that Hopkins wants to bolster the community beyond the original Homewood campus boundaries, university officials said.
"Our development projects are intended to be a catalyst for community and government investment in the area," said Stephen M. Campbell, interim executive director of the university's Office of Facilities and Real Estate.
Revitalizing the neighborhood near Hopkins, particularly the commercial district, will also address the perception that the university lacks an adjacent "college town center" where students can shop, dine and enjoy entertainment. Although Hopkins is internationally respected for its faculty and research opportunities, university officials say they also want to enrich the college experience outside the classroom.
Adding retail shops to the Homewood Apartments "is part of a strategy to improve student life here on campus," Campbell said. "The other link will be the new student arts center, which will be right across the street."
Private investors are also doing their part. Eddie's Market on St. Paul Street recently underwent a major renovation, and its owner, Jerry Gordon, has organized a "Third Fridays" street music series. A few doors down, the building formerly occupied by the Homewood Deli has just been refurbished and reopened as a new restaurant, J.P. Henry's.
"We've been trying to get this location for three years," said Henry Pertman, co-owner of the eatery. "It's a great central meeting area, and this area is greatly underserved by food establishments."
Pertman's restaurant will seat 150 customers. In a building next door, formerly occupied by the Hopkins Store, a new Donna's coffee shop is under construction. The Hopkins Store has relocated to nearby 32nd Street, and the new Donna's shop is expected to give students and Charles Villagers yet another dining option.
"I couldn't be happier," Pertman said of the mini building boom. "Anything that makes this more of a destination location will help. More people walking around actually makes this a safer environment."
Sheila Rees, president of the Charles Village Civic Association, representing 10,000 residents, said her members are also pleased by the opening of new businesses along St. Paul and in the Homewood Apartments complex.
"The more, the merrier," she said. "We feel there's been a lack of the shops and the services that you would expect in a campus community. One cause has been the lack of retail space. There are very few areas zoned for business in Charles Village."
Last year, however, neighborhood activists persuaded the Baltimore City Council to approve new planning guidelines for a portion of St. Paul Street to encourage additional retail development.
"Why shouldn't we be as much of a free-flowing cosmopolitan area as Harvard Square?" Rees asked. "There's really a good bit of street parking in Charles Village, even if you have to scurry about for it. And city neighborhoods are really designed to facilitate pedestrian traffic. You walk to your shops and your cafes. The more people who are out there, the more you build a sense of community and neighborliness."
Both students and neighborhood residents are expected to patronize the new shops in the renovated Homewood Apartments. These businesses, which may include a copy center and small retailers selling books, records or clothing, Campbell said, will occupy about 18,500 square feet on two floors at the corner of 31st and Charles.
University officials expect to announce the signing of a first tenant this month, enabling that business to open by Thanksgiving. Full retail occupancy is expected by next spring.
The refurbished complex will also house 32,000 square feet of office space, which will be occupied by the university's Center for Social Organization of Schools and the Office of Communications and Public Affairs.
A New Room
Two years ago, Hopkins administrators were weighing the fate
of the Homewood Apartments, a student housing complex built
during the 1920s on the west side of Charles Street between 30th
and 31st streets. Its outdated electrical wiring and plumbing
systems required constant, costly repairs. The university, which
had owned the Homewood Apartments since 1970, had to decide
whether to make major repairs or rebuild the entire complex.
Merely making the utilities comply with modern building codes would have cost about $4 million, said Stephen M. Campbell, Hopkins' interim director of Facilities and Real Estate. Instead, the university opted for a more costly and more ambitious plan: demolish the interior of the seven-floor complex and rebuild it to provide retail and office space along with gleaming new apartments for students.
Today, the $17.5 million project is nearing completion. The student apartments were ready for the fall semester. The office space and retail shops, which will generate revenue to help pay for the renovation, will soon follow.
"I think it's been a highly successful project," said Campbell, "both in its impact on the community and the amenities that will be available to students."
During the housing lottery last spring, well before the renovation was completed, many students were eager to reserve a place in the Homewood. "The Homewood was certainly the most popular university apartment complex in the selection process, and we filled all of the spaces there," said Carol Mohr, the university's director of housing.
These spaces include 56 efficiency apartments, 12 one-bedroom units, 28 two-bedrooms, 16 three-bedrooms and 12 four-bedrooms. About 75 percent of the apartments are furnished. Depending on how many people are sharing the apartment, a student will pay $395 to $715 per month to live in a furnished unit, $350 to $670 a month to live in an unfurnished one.
The apartments have new carpeting and appliances, and-- unlike the old Homewood Apartments--thermal windowpanes and central air conditioning. Individual thermostats allow the tenants in each unit to select a comfortable temperature.
Each apartment is also wired for telephone service, cable television and Internet access. Students will be able to use a large meeting room, an exercise room and coin-operated laundry facilities.
Residents will rely on a card-key system to enter. Visitors will need to use a buzzer system to get into the main lobby, and again at the entrances to the apartment hallways. For maximum visibility, the two new elevators and the laundry room are enclosed by large glass windows. Escort services are available for students traveling between the apartment complex and the main campus.
"The safety of our students is a priority, and we focused on that in the design of the facility and the systems we installed," Mohr said. "An emphasis will be placed on security precautions while at home as well as the resources available to students as they travel to and from the Homewood."
Although the complex is filled with modern amenities, most of the exterior brickwork remains in its original condition. In a nod to the Homewood's original design, the builders installed custom-made exterior lighting fixtures that resemble old-fashioned gas lamps.
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