The somewhat cryptic email sent out by Single Carrot Theatre this week saying they are looking for a new location to stage their season opening show was the first indication many in Baltimore had about problems at their “Load of Fun” building in Station North.
Intended to reassure, it was laced with the kind of phrases that signal trouble:
“Temporarily closed while plans are made for renovations … circumstances beyond the control of everyone involved … in conversations with local organizations about other venues… events came about rather suddenly,” said the email sent out by Nathan A. Cooper, artistic director, and Elliott Rauh, managing director.
Turns out the city found a zoning code violation at 120 W. North Ave. and in late August its owner, Sherwin Mark, asked Single Carrot, as well as some 40 other arts groups, galleries and small businesses in the building, to leave while renovations are made.
Ben Stone, director of Station North Arts & Entertainment Inc., said the city has been helpful and that he and an assortment of local stakeholders (Maryland Institute College of Art, non-profit developer Jubilee Baltimore Inc. and others) have been meeting and trying to find alternate spaces for the displaced artists.
“We’re looking at available churches, offices and warehouse space,” Stone said. According to Cooper, Single Carrot is close to being able to announce where they will be staging “Drunk Enough to Say I Love You” on October 5.
First reported by Baltimore City Paper, the Load of Fun shutdown has sent a chill through the local arts community.
“Rumors are rampant that evil people are trying to take over here,” Stone said, adding that the landlord has been rehabbing the building for years. Such rumors he said are “completely unfounded… this is a neighborhood characterized by a collaborative spirit, not mysterious nonexistent ‘evil’ people.”
Still, if that’s the case, a question remains. How does it come about that a centerpiece of Station North – an arts district which has received abundant grant funding from local and national foundations, staged events featuring the mayor and renowned international artists and been declared Baltimore’s “it” neighborhood by The Washington Post – is suddenly slapped with a code violation and the artists ejected?
“It is strange,” Stone said.
“Not Authorized for Any Use”
According to Tania Baker, a spokesperson for Baltimore Housing, the city was alerted to problems at the building via an anonymous 311 call. The problems found at a July 26 inspection include lack of sprinklers, problems with the electrical system and egress issues, Baker said in an email to The Brew.
The building is in a B-2 “Community Business District Zone.” We asked Baker to explain the specific zoning violation: “land use without proper occupancy.”
“The zoning is B-2, but unfortunately the property is not authorized for any use at all at this time,” Baker said. “We’re happy that the owner is taking appropriate action to properly occupy the property and we will continue to work with him to help identify the quickest and most economical path.”
Records on file with the city show that Mark has appealed to the Board of Municipal Zoning Appeals to establish the building’s use as “an artisan space and theater.” A hearing has been scheduled for October 16.
Mark, reached yesterday, said he has been working to rehab the building for years but knew of no violations until he received an Aug. 27 notice from the city.
Asked if lack of sprinklers, electrical issues and egress problems were the only problems the city identified he said “in general those three items, but I have no specifics.” He said he is continuing to talk to city officials about what repairs or changes they consider necessary “and particularly what it will cost” and hopes to be able to tell former tenants they can return to at least portions of the building “in a very short time frame.”
“I’ve been buoyed by the kind of community coming-together that has occurred around this,” he said.
Show Must Go On?
Cooper said the landlord told them in late August that due to a zoning violation “pertaining to usage,” he was going to have to temporarily shut the building down and renovate.
“It was rather unexpected,” Cooper said, adding that the violation as far as he knows “does not have anything to do with our operations and what we were doing.”
He said he wasn’t sure yet if they would have to move items from the space they have occupied there since the company’s beginning five years ago: “I’m not sure of the scope of the renovations.”
After finding a a new place to put on their first show, originally scheduled to open September 21, they plan to find alternate locations to stage the rest of the productions planned this season.
“We would like to assure you that Single Carrot Theatre is alive and well and that we will carry on our 6th season with as little interruption as possible,” Cooper and Rauh wrote in their email, asking ticketholders or others with concerns to contact them at 443-844-9253.
Beyond the theater’s immediate need for space this season, Cooper said, Single Carrot continues to search for a larger permanent home where they could seat a bigger audience and bring in more revenue. Their current building, he said, the former Lombard Office Furniture Warehouse, has limited space.
“We’ve kind of hit a glass ceiling.”