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Hamilton-Lauraville group buys building for incubator

When Regina Lansinger and Rich Marsiglia had two days to finance the purchase of a new incubator space, they didn’t get the money from a bank — they got it from area business owners and residents.

Rich Marsiglia (left) and Regina Lansinger, leaders of Hamilton-Lauraville Main Street, stand outside of the original Hamilton firehouse that the group bought this month for $64,900.

Lansinger and Marsiglia lead Hamilton-Lauraville Main Street. The nonprofit commercial revitalization organization in northeast Baltimore is one of the city’s 10 designated Main Streets.

Baltimore’s Main Streets program, modeled on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street program, was started in 2000 by Gov. Martin O’Malley while he was the city’s mayor. The program provides guidelines for urban revitalization and is overseen by the Baltimore Development Corp.

Started in 2008, HLMS has an operating budget of $115,650. This month, the group bought the original Hamilton firehouse building near the intersection of Hamilton Avenue and Harford Road.

The organization paid $64,900 for the building, buying the property before it went to auction. They settled on May 1 and by next spring, Lansinger and Marsiglia, the group’s director and board president, respectively, hope to have the space renovated, with the first floor serving as an incubator for a retail business. The second floor will have office spaces and community meeting space.

A community, rather than a bank, financing a project is becoming increasingly common, said David Kirsch, associate professor of capitalism studies at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, College Park.

“What we’re really seeing is just a change in the role of banks,” which have become more oriented toward risk management and driving returns for shareholders than local lending, he said.

“It’s kind of is like a crowd sourcing response,” he said.

The group’s plan is to give a startup retail company about six months of mentorship as well as reduced rent in the incubator. Then, the company would move into one of the available spaces on Harford Road.

There are about 10 spaces on Harford Road — and one on Hamilton Avenue — that fit the 500- to 1,500-square-foot size of a small retail business, Lansinger said.

In fiscal 2011, 10 businesses opened and six closed in the HLMS commercial district, resulting in a net gain of 28 jobs, according to the group’s annual report.

Though the first floor of the old firehouse is a beauty salon, Marsiglia has spoken with the business owners about plans to remodel the building, and HLMS will help relocate the business when the time comes, Marsiglia said.

Marsiglia, who owns Hamilton Vacuum and Janitorial Supply, also has teamed up with Winston Blick, chef and owner of nearby Clementine restaurant, to open a local and organic food store called the Green Onion.

After about two years of planning and $70,000 in renovations, including the installation of 10 refrigeration units and new heating and air conditioning, plumbing and electrical systems, the shop opened Thursday at the corner of Hamilton Avenue and Harford Road.

The space, owned by Marsiglia, had been vacant for 2½ years, since he moved his vacuum business across the street to the former home of Cooper’s Camera Mart.

“It’s going to cost a little more, but it’s going to be the cow got slaughtered on Monday, butchered on Tuesday and by Thursday, it’s in our case,” said Marsiglia, who said he hopes the new store will bring a regular crowd and some vibrancy to an intersection that has been “dead, shutdown.”

“Hopefully the store will bring stability to the area,” he said.

The group has also started a “citywide search for business,” a proactive plan to attract businesses to the area and provide assistance, including website and business plan development. The help comes mostly from HLMS board members, who are lending their expertise to support the area’s needs.

The focus is on retail that will complement the area’s thriving restaurant and arts-related businesses.

“We want to see more people strolling the street, and if they go to dinner, and they go to one of the shows, they’re still off the street,” he said.

The group advertised on local listserves and took out an advertisement in Baltimore City Paper at the end of March. A month later it had its first retail business picked: a Maryland-made art and crafts shop to be called The Gift Cellar.

The business, which will be housed at 4337 Harford Road, below the Red Canoe Bookstore Café, is the brainchild of Kim Gray and Sue Holmes.

The two hope to be open the first week of September.

“That community is so supportive of its businesses. We’re just really happy that we’re going to be able to be there,” Gray said.

In July, the store owners plan to hold an open house for artists to see the space, she said.

Gray and Holmes will manage the store, generating revenue from renting display space to artists, who will in turn receive all the revenue from their products sales, she said.



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