After The Woda Group’s Mary Harvin Center, a seniors housing project under construction, was destroyed by fire during the Baltimore riots on April 27, the developer vowed to rebuild. And it has worked quickly to put that plan into place.
“We had the odd experience of watching the building burn on live TV,” says David Cooper Jr., a principal of the Westerville, Ohio–based company. “It was apparent to us that it would be a total loss.”
Plans were made to convene in person or by phone with all parties playing a role in construction or financing at 10 a.m. the following morning. By 11 a.m., the partners had agreed on the key steps they needed to take on the recovery effort.
“Under 12 hours from the fire, we had a plan to move forward,” Cooper says. “And we have been able to execute that plan.”
To keep all parties involved in the loop and the plan on track, Woda is holding weekly recovery conference calls. Cooper says the weekly calls will continue for another month until construction is back on track.
Woda is partnering with the Southern Baptist Church on the 61-unit Mary Harvin Center, which will also provide community space that will house an array of activities, job training, and educational programs for East Baltimore residents. The church, which has done a lot of work in the neighborhood, assembled and rezoned the land and then sold to Woda to create the development.
“The Mary Harvin Center was and is another catalyst development to continue the transformational impact gaining momentum in Baltimore City,” said Pastor Donté Hickman during a press conference at the site last week.
Cooper credits the project’s financial partners—Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), the city of Baltimore and its Department of Housing, Capital One Bank, and Hudson Housing Capital—on their commitment to rebuild quickly.
“The city of Baltimore has been really supportive and helpful. The state DHCD and Secretary Ken Holt jumped in quickly. And our funding partners immediately asked what else they could do,” says Cooper.
Because the project is being financed with low-income housing tax credits, Woda swiftly submitted paperwork and received approval from the state DHCD for an extension of the project’s placed-in-service date. The project originally was slated to be finished in November, but the fire has set back the construction schedule by four or five months and is expected to be completed by early spring 2016.
He also praises its insurance company, ACE of Alpharetta, Ga., for being quick to get things moving. Insurance funds will cover the demolition costs as well as the rebuilding up to the point of where construction was at the time of the fire. The added demo expenses and soft costs will add $1.1 million to the original estimated $13.5 million total development cost.
As soon as the site was turned back over to the developer on May 4 after the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives completed its investigation, the construction team started work. As of last week, much of the debris had already been cleared, and the elevator shafts had been removed. The basement retaining walls also must come out, and all the underground utilities must be replaced. Harkins Builders, Inc., is the general contractor.
“We have within a week that we will be at the point where we will finish the demo and get started on the reconstruction activities,” Cooper says.
In addition to rebuilding the Mary Harvin Center, Woda is staying committed to its work in Baltimore. A second phase of its Penn Square development is under construction, and it expects to break ground on a veterans housing project in 2016.
“We are very committed, and we have a number of properties in the city. Every property we open is 100% full,” says Cooper. “The tenants are happy to have that quality of housing at a reasonable cost in the city. In each case, we have been able to clear a block or so of blight and replace it with some really nice housing. And we intend to continue that.”