A few years ago Rasheed Aziz was operating out of a rowhouse on North Avenue, a place Demian Costa, partner at Weller Development Co., recalled as “a little bit messed up.”
Aziz, however, already had his sights set on an old warehouse space a few blocks away in the 2100 block of West North Avenue. Costa and Marc Weller, founder of the Weller Development Co., thought it was premature to move Aziz’s Frozen Desert Sorbet company and his Citywide Youth Development program to that site.
“It was a bit of a jump,” Costa said.
On Friday, though, Aziz was finally ready to make that jump. Aziz celebrated the groundbreaking that transformed the property at 2132-2136 W. North Ave. into the EMAGE Center, which stands for Entrepreneurs Making and Growing Enterprises.
“We own this property,” Aziz said with a smile.
The center will house the Frozen Desert Sorbet and BMore Clothing as well as a retail incubator for other microenterprises started by Baltimore residents.
Weller Development provided Aziz’s firms space at City Garage in Port Covington rent and utility free for two years. That way Aziz could focus on his ventures, which includes the BMore Clothing brand. After two years Aziz’s firms were “bursting at the seams” in their space at City Garage.
Aziz’s Frozen Desert Sorbet is now sold at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore’s public pools and at stands in state office buildings in Baltimore, including the State Center complex.
His Citywide Youth Development trains young Baltimore residents in industrial sewing, screen printing and embroidery via his BMore Clothing line.
The 12-week training program, funded by the Abell Foundation and others, involves 15 partners in need of sewing technicians. It started as a partnership with Under Armour’s UA Lighthouse at City Garage.
“Port Covington has really been a blessing for us,” Aziz said.
Eventually Aziz decided it was time to tackle transforming the West North Avenue property he’d originally wanted to redevelop to make space for his growing ventures.
It was a decision that pleased Councilman Leon F. Pinkett III, who represents that area. Aziz had chosen a neighborhood hard hit by disinvestment and rocked by the April 2015 riots following the death of Freddie Gray.
“It could’ve gotten really comfortable for (Aziz) down in Port Covington,” Pinkett said.
Overhauling the North Avenue property, which currently hosts a flea market, to fit the EMAGE Center’s needs will cost $1.9 million, Aziz said. There’s still an $800,000 gap in fund to complete the project, he said, with $800,000 already coming from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. The remainder, Aziz said, represents his companies’ stake in the project.
He’s working with developer Aziz Housseini, CEO of AZ Group, to overhaul the site, which he expects to deliver in November.
“I’m an entrepreneur. I create enterprises,” Aziz said. “I’m not a developer, at least not yet.”
N. Scott Phillips, project director of of the Baltimore MBDA Advanced Manufacturing Center, praised the center’s groundbreaking as a “shining example of what’s possible.”
“The beauty of today … is we can replicate this,” Phillips said.