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Copy Cat Closeout?

Jefferson Jackson Steele
KITTY CORNER: Rumor has it that the Copy Cat building is going to be sold and redeveloped.

Posted 1/30/2008

Last month, the Nose started hearing reports of an imminent sale of the Copy Cat building-the longtime home to starving artists on Guilford Avenue. The Copy Cat, a 165,000-square-foot former industrial building that has been home to working artists since the 1980s, became a legitimate live/work space in 2003, when a city zoning change allowed artists to live in the building legally. Today it's a centerpiece of the Charles North Arts and Entertainment district, and Charles Lankford, owner of the Copy Cat since 1983 and a landlord to artists in the area since the '70s, says the rumors of the building's sale are overblown and tells the Nose he's sick of talking about them.

"There is no imminent sale of the building," Lankford says from his Florida home. He says he's got "a few irons in the fire," and he'd be willing to sell the Copy Cat for the right price, or find an investor who can chip in the money he needs to upgrade the building. But he's had deals for the sale of the building fall through before, and "that building is not sold until I sit at a table and money and title change hands. Until then it doesn't mean shit. . . . Until then it's contemplation."

At least one local developer is in on the contemplation, and has been briefing folks in the neighborhood on its plans. There's no public record of the deal, but government and neighborhood leaders say there's a contract on the property, pending due diligence by the developer.

City Councilman Bernard "Jack" Young, whose 12th District includes the Copy Cat and who sponsored the legislation in 2003 to allow artists to live there, says Robert Persaud, whose Mount Vernon Properties LLC owns a number of city buildings, has presented a plan that involves gutting the building and rehabbing it. His plan includes providing at least some apartments in the $700 to $900 per month range. Young says a rehabbed Copy Cat "will be another part of the puzzle as we continue to revitalize this area. . . . This project will be a welcome addition to creating better living conditions for those who currently live in the building." In an e-mail, Young writes, "I support the Copy Cat project that will be developed by Mr. Persaud who wants to gut the building and do a total rehab." Persaud did not return calls for this article.

Jim Vose, a metal sculptor who co-owns the former industrial space housing the Area 405 gallery and who chairs the governing board of Station North Arts and Entertainment Inc., has also been briefed by Persaud on the negotiations for the Copy Cat. He says his group has been anticipating the possibility of a sale for about a year and a half, and is working with the city to find space for the 300-some artists who will be displaced if plans to gut the building go through. In the long term, he says, a vacant city-owned lot at Oliver and Greenmount will be developed as permanent artist housing and work space. He says he hopes to announce a short-term plan for Copy Cat residents in the next few weeks.

Vose says the Copy Cat has provided a unique addition to the Baltimore arts scene for decades: "It's really provided an incubator for all types of artists in Baltimore-it gives you that entry-level rental studio space. There's been recording studios, performance space, studio space, across the board for 30 years. That kind of a resource is where young artists get out and start making work and become productive in the arts community."

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