Overlooking the balcony of 1123 Sterrett Street is a stunning view of Southwest Baltimore’s cityscape and M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens. The view is one reason David Akinniyi, owner of Blue Door Investments, was drawn to purchase the property and construct a multifamily housing unit that will be rented at fair market rates. The other reasons boil down to this: Baltimore has captured the heart of this Dallas, TX native.
Getting Started in Baltimore
David’s nontraditional path to becoming a real estate developer has led to opportunities he never imagined. Previously, he was focused on playing football at Northeastern University and briefly in the NFL. After moving on from football, he found it challenging to find a well-paying job that utilized his full potential, so he decided to earn an MBA from Boston University. The degree opened a world of opportunity for David and he successfully found the job of his dreams in the software industry. The job involved a fair amount of travel, which is how he first started getting to know Baltimore and spending time walking around the city’s neighborhoods.
When David developed a desire to pursue real estate development that would yield returns down the road, he knew Baltimore was the ideal place to do it. He was intrigued by the rise in community development and well-priced properties for sale. Although many out of staters have negative perceptions of Baltimore, David’s positive experience didn’t match the narrative portrayed by the media. He was particularly interested in pursuing projects in Pigtown, an up-and-coming neighborhood that has been undergoing a lot of transformation. David explains, “I see a lot of people now investing more in homes, I see people buying houses that were abandoned and renovating them…specifically in this area, a lot of people are trying to improve it.”
In 2019, David purchased and rehabbed a rowhome in Pigtown, turning it around to rent at a fair market rate. In 2020, he followed suit with a second rowhome, this one on Sterrett Street, adjacent to the blossoming Warner Street Entertainment District. He was flying back and forth between Baltimore and Dallas to oversee the projects, and the more time he spent in Baltimore, the more he became committed to being part of its revitalization.
Next, David set his sights on purchasing an empty lot on Sterrett Street. Overgrown and strewn with trash, it was an eyesore to the otherwise charming neighborhood. By now, David had experience purchasing and rehabbing properties and was ready to take on constructing a new building. His vision was to build a multi-family unit that would be rented at a fair market rate for residents, like his other properties. However, he needed to find a lender willing to fund a rookie real estate developer’s new construction project.
As luck would have it, David was referred to Baltimore Community Lending (BCL) by Baltimore Development Corporation. The two organizations work closely together through the Baltimore BASE Network and have partnered on numerous projects such as the Lexington Market redevelopment. David felt confident working with a community development financial institution that supports underserved entrepreneurs and community developers, so he decided to apply for a commercial real estate loan.
Continued Commitment to Quality, Fair Rate Housing
BCL’s staff worked closely with David throughout the entire process from application to construction. Ned Fields, BCL’s Rehabilitation & Construction Specialist, provided close guidance during the construction phase. He made sure David crossed his T’s and dotted his I’s and verified that his contractor agreements were comprehensive. David also appreciated the guidance of Roy Miller, BCL’s Real Estate Coordinator, who was by his side every step of the way. During the most challenging moments, he recalls Roy saying, “You’re going to get through this build. We’re going to make it happen for you.” David says the lessons he learned from BCL’s intricate process have made him a stronger developer.
The loan request was approved in June 2022. Before beginning the project, David sent letters notifying the neighbors of his plans and asking for their feedback. He regularly checks with the neighbors to make sure the construction isn’t too noisy or causing any inconvenience. David views his projects as more than a financial investment; he views them as part of the transformation of underinvested communities. He believes that Baltimore’s residents deserve decent, well-built housing. In his words, “Baltimoreans deserve good quality products…the people who live here deserve to live nicely.”
In alignment with David’s values, the building is being constructed to prioritize quality and desirability. There’s an ADA-compliant unit on the first floor. All the units have large windows that let in plenty of natural light, closets with an abundance of storage space, and modern appliances that are conveniently placed. David has taken care to incorporate lessons he has learned from his other projects, such as building water lines that feed into the refrigerators’ ice makers. His fiancée, Umenita Imo, used her eye for interior design to help him curate high-quality, stylish décor, light fixtures, and countertops. The upper units have balconies overlooking the cityscape and M&T Bank Stadium. He even installed a basketball court, complete with painted lines and a hoop, on the paved lot next to the building. As a lifelong athlete, David hopes his future residents will experience the benefits of having access to the basketball court, especially when so many Baltimoreans don’t have courts or other facilities in their own communities.
The unit is expected to be completed by the end of the summer but David’s investment in Baltimore has only just begun. The more he and Umenita visit, the more their love for the city grows. So much so that at the beginning of May, as they were enjoying the view from the balcony of the property, David got down on one knee and asked for her hand in marriage (she said yes). David and Umenita are looking forward to their future and the future of Baltimore. With the commitment of developers like David, we are too.