Meet Your Merchant: Southeast Community Development Corporation

Written by on June 5, 2013 in Featured - No comments

Local artist Maria Cavacos created colorful representations of Southeast Baltimore neighborhoods. The work is on display in the lobby of the Southeast CDC’s new location. - Photo courtesy of the Southeast CDC

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The Southeast Community Development Corporation’s new location—the second floor of 3323 Eastern Ave., at Highland Ave.—is “a modern adaptation of a historic building,” says Chris Ryer, president of the Southeast CDC.

The building’s exterior stands out, gently, among the classic facades on Highlandtown’s classic street, The Avenue. Inside, exposed, time-worn brick contrasts with Euro-style track lighting, and the gleaming duct-work is too attractive to hide. Colorful depictions of the Southeast neighborhoods—by Southeast artist Maria Cavacos—hang on the lobby wall. Glass doors lead out to a sheltered deck made, Ryer points out, from “sustainably-grown hardwood.”

An influential presence in Southeast Baltimore since the mid-1970s, it could be said that today’s Southeast CDC is a modern adaptation of a historic organization. At present, the nonprofit is filling three roles:

First: “We provide a large amount of housing and financial counseling,” explains Ryer, adding that the new building provides a private office for each bilingual counselor, who helps home-buyers pre- and post-purchase and provides general counseling on finances. The future may bring primers on energy management and more. Weekend and evening appointments are available.

The building, which is “green in every way,” Ryer notes, helps showcase urban living.

“It’s supposed to show young people living in the city how you can live with no yard,” he says. “Basically, you live on the roof.”

The new Southeast CDC building features a sedum-covered green roof, multiple rain barrels and solar panels, as well as sustainable materials such as recycled wood floors and recycled fiber carpeting. Ryer notes that art is a key component of the building, which includes works by local artists such as wood-turner Mark Supik, and other pieces commissioned by Felicia Zanino’s Magnolia Design.

Second: In the same way that the organization has revitalized an old building, it expends substantial energy and resources to revitalize greater Highlandtown as well. The Highlandtown Main Street program, in which  local businesses collaborate in beautification and improvement initiatives, is getting ready to launch, for the second year, the Highlandtown Farmers Market. The Highlandtown Arts District showcases local artists and artisans, and offers tax breaks and other incentives to creative industries that Highlandtown has become noted for. Communities for All Ages does what the name says—it brings multiple generations together for fun, community-oriented events. Most recently, it screened a short film, “Our Second Story,” about really getting to know the neighbors, in Library Square.

Third: The Southeast CDC’s final role in the community, Ryer says, is as a “last resort real estate developer.”

“If the market is up, we don’t have to do anything, really,” he says. “If the market is not doing what it’s supposed to do—that’s when a CDC comes in. Where a regular developer has to borrow money, a CDC can raise money philanthropically.”

This was the case with the Southeast CDC’s new building, which is the location of the former Highlandtown Library. After the Southeast CDC attempted to set a temporary art gallery in the space, the city issued a request for proposals in 2009. The Southeast CDC was the only bidder, and it was awarded the building in 2010.

“We raised $300,000 of our own money,” says Ryer. “That matched a state bond bill.”

The agency also received gifts from the Abell Foundation, the France-Merrick Foundation, the Weinberg Foundation and others. A developer and an architect known for their green innovations—Doug Schmidt and Randy Sovich, respectively—were enlisted for the project, and construction started in June 2012.

“I’m not going to say when it was supposed to be done, but we moved in in April,” jokes Ryer.

What’s next? Look for a well-known restaurant, a welcome addition to the Southeast social scene, to move in on the bottom floor, coming soon.

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