The Marlborough has stood over Baltimore’s Bolton Hill neighborhood since 1907.

When it was first built, the 10-story structure was home to 55 elegant apartments and was one of the most prestigious addresses in the city.

The Marlborough, a historic apartment building in Baltimore, is being renovated and preserved as affordable housing by Cambridge Housing Partners.
The Marlborough, a historic apartment building in Baltimore, is being renovated and preserved as affordable housing by Cambridge Housing Partners.

Developers are ready to restore some of the original glory back to the building, which was turned into 300 tenement units in the 1970s. In 1997, the structure was redone into 227 studio and one-bedroom apartments and has served as a Sec. 8 property reserved for elderly residents.

“The Marlborough is unlike any other affordable housing in the country. The building is not only a remarkable example of historic architecture but also an anchor for one of Baltimore’s finest historic neighborhoods,” says David Garcia, managing director of Cambridge Housing Partners (CHP), which recently closed on the financing to renovate the brick and stone building.

CHP, the third-party developer, secured allocations of tax-exempt bonds and 4% low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs) to enable the nonprofit Housing Preservation, Inc., to acquire and substantially rehabilitate the landmark building.

It’s a very complex transaction because of the level of rehabilitation needed to ensure that the project would be acquired and preserved as affordable housing, according to Jeff Dean, CHP’s project finance director.

The redevelopment will cost approximately $54.4 million, with more than $60,000 per unit in critical repairs planned. In addition, the developers are reconfiguring the lobby to be more functional as well as to restore its grandeur. Hamel Builders is scheduled to begin construction in March. Alan Miner of Miner Feinstein Architects is the project architect.

“In 1907, the Marlborough Apartments was the tallest building between the Washington Monument and the Philadelphia City Hall,” Dean says. “Can you imagine the courage and determination of the individuals who put this bold plan to paper, then secured the money required to realize their ambition? We see the determination of our forebears literally carved into the brick and stone of the structures they have handed down to us.”

Dean has thrown himself into the project, absorbing the building’s rich history, which includes the story of sisters Claribel and Etta Cone, who lived in adjoining apartments. The wealthy women were friends with many prominent writers and artists, and they amassed a significant art collection of approximately 3,000 objects, which were displayed in their Marlborough apartments.

The Cone collection included 114 works by Picasso and hundreds of pieces by Matisse, including his iconic Blue Nude painting. The collection became part of the Baltimore Museum of Art upon Etta Cone’s death in 1949 and is on view in the museum’s Cone Wing.

To finance the building’s renovation and preservation, Mark Ragsdale, senior vice president at PNC Real Estate, originated approximately $25 million in bond financing through Fannie Mae, and Bob Dicks, vice president at PNC, purchased the 4% LIHTCs, raising about $18.4 million in equity.

The Marlborough is the first deal to close under the CHP banner. Garcia and his colleagues at the company launched the Denver-based firm in 2013 after working together at other affordable housing firms. It’s a memorable first project.

Dean points to all the work that went into first building the structure a century ago and now redeveloping it for the next century.

“What do I like most about the Marlborough?” he ponders. “I like knowing that my tiny contribution will preserve a symbol of human determination to overcome the limits we face. To not only save that, but to do so while providing homes to individuals whom many in society have written off? I’m not sure whether a person could find a better use for his life.”

Connect with Donna Kimura, deputy editor of Affordable Housing Finance, on Twitter @DKimura_AHF.