While pro bono work is often litigation-oriented, attorneys at Ballard Spahr LLP took on two community redevelopment projects that required the expertise and resources of sophisticated transactional lawyers. Both projects are now under construction.
The attorneys advised on financing, tax and leasing matters for a stabilization center for people struggling with addiction at the Hebrew Orphan Asylum in Baltimore’s Coppin Heights neighborhood. They also provided advice for Strong City Baltimore, a nonprofit, to became an anchor tenant in the A. Hoen & Co. Lithograph building in east Baltimore.
“Ballard has an extraordinarily deep transactional practice in Baltimore and these projects really had every conceivable element of a transactional practice,” Jon M. Laria, managing partner at Ballard Spahr’s Baltimore office, said in an interview Friday.
Both projects were complex and required the expertise of attorneys with extensive transactional experience, Laria said.
The Hebrew Orphan Asylum project involved acquiring the property from the state university system, obtaining historic tax credits from the state, finding a developer, putting together state and federal tax credits, and working with Baltimore’s Health Department to lease the property, among other challenges, the firm said.
With 11 separate sources of financing, the Hoen development project was also complicated. Ballard Spahr attorneys helped Strong City Baltimore secure a 10-year lease and become an equity partner in the building.
“The main challenge with Hoen was just the astronomical number of financing sources,” said Alyssa Domzal, an associate who worked on the transaction.
“What people don’t realize about renovating historic buildings is that it’s incredibly expensive. You have to put together this patchwork of financing sources and every single time you add money to the deal, you add layers of complexity and approvals,” she said.
Cross Street Partners, City Life Community Builders and Strong City Baltimore partnered on the $26 million project to convert the building into a mix of office, flex and retail space. The sale of the building was approved by the city in 2017.
“Projects like this threaten to fail 10 times before they succeed,” Laria said. “You always feel like something can happen.”
Ballard Spahr attorneys performed 1,700 hours of pro bono transactional legal service worth $1 million on the two projects. Five attorneys represented Hebrew Orphan Asylum and 10 attorneys worked on the project at the Hoen Lithograph building, the firm said.
“We were concerned that if a firm like ours didn’t get involved, these projects would not happen,” Laria said. “We were willing to commit substantial resources to both projects. We feel we played a critical role in making both projects happen.”
Laria said the firm found that the projects were an interesting use of its transactional lawyering resources and that its transactional practice was sophisticated enough to take on both. In addition, associates are allowed to apply the time they spend on pro bono projects toward their billable hours requirement, Laria said.
“Our view is that if the firm is committing to a pro bono project then the pro bono client deserves zealous representation. We also don’t think it’s appropriate to limit the billable hour credit that our associates receive,” he said.