Baltimore Community Lending to spend nearly $5M on new downtown headquarters

Building Rendering Photo

By Garrett Dvorkin – Reporter, Baltimore Business Journal
Nov 8, 2023


Baltimore Community Lending (BCL) will spend close to $5 million on a new
headquarters on Calvert Street to expand its business development program and give its
staff some breathing room.

The community development financial institution (CDFI) purchased the former American Office headquarters at 309 N. Calvert St. back in March for $3 million. Watchen
Bruce, BCL’s CEO, said the nonprofit had been searching for a new building as the
organization had outgrown its much smaller space in the University of Maryland
Biopark. BCL hopes to move into its new digs by March or April, when it will launch its
Business Development and Resource Center, a new program that Bruce said will be a
“one-stop shop” for small businesses. The nonprofit received state and federal grants to
fund the new headquarters and is currently renovating the four-story, 25,000-squarefoot building at a cost of $1.8 million.

“We didn’t want to continue being a tenant. We want people to know who we are and
where we are,” Bruce said. “We also wanted to have our name on the building so people
know we are part of the community.”

BCL plans to use the top two floors of the new building, roughly 10,000 square feet, for
its own office space. The first floor will be the home of the nonprofit’s new business
development program. BCL wants to lease out the second floor, roughly 5,000 square
feet, to either a nonprofit or an organization that operates in the affordable housing or
small business spaces.

BCL purchased the building from an LLC associated with American Office, which put the building up for sale in June 2022 after being acquired by rival furniture dealer MOI Inc.

The new headquarters allows BCL to expand and formalize its small business assistance
program that helps entrepreneurs with all facets of their fledgling endeavors. Bruce said
BCL in the past has referred entrepreneurs and developers who have received funding to
attorneys, accountants and marketing companies. The new business development
program on the first floor will put all these types of services in one place for any
entrepreneur, not just those who have received BCL funding, said Clarence Snuggs,
BCL’s chief operating officer. The goal is to have accountants, marketing companies,
lawyers and IT specialists join a network created by BCL to come to the center to offer
free or low-cost services, Snuggs added.

“We will continue to lend and develop financing for divested communities, that is our
main product. This is a third product where we want to provide technical assistance and
coaching to anyone who might need support and provide that at low or no cost,” Snuggs
said. “There are a number of resource providers in this city and region, we want to
partner with them. The theme for the center is collaboration, and to be more effective
and more efficient.”

BCL, like most organizations, switched to remote work when the pandemic hit in 2020.
As the pandemic receded, BCL officials realized they couldn’t bring their employees back
to the office because there wasn’t enough space. Bruce said the organization grew from
10 employees in 2020 to its current count of 21, and that BCL expects to have 25
employees by the end of 2024. BCL just couldn’t fit that many staff members into its
4,500-square-foot space on Hollins Street in the West Baltimore Biopark.

It wasn’t just more space that BCL wanted in a move, but also more exposure. Snuggs
said the location of the new headquarters is intentional. He said BCL wanted to be near
the central business district so that it is easier for people in east and west Baltimore to
get to the building. He said a lot of what BCL does is encourage entrepreneurs to “have a
stake in their community.” Snuggs said the new headquarters is practicing what BCL
preaches, and that the organization now has an almost $5 million stake in an area of
downtown Baltimore.

“We could’ve found space to rent, but we decided we wanted to be an anchor,” Snuggs
said. “This is going to be our home, we have our name on the building and we want to
contribute to the economic development of our own community.