“When Tom Hoen was a boy in the early 1970s, he would visit his father’s factory on school field trips. At the time, A. Hoen & Co. was the oldest lithography firm in the country. Its massive printing presses produced everything from Topps baseball cards to the detailed maps folded into National Geographic magazine. Hoen would ride the bus with his classmates to the company’s East Baltimore plant, and very often it was his father himself, Townsend Hoen, who would greet them. He’d usher the students into the company’s buildings—which covered an entire city block—and show them around. ‘As soon as you’d walk in, you’d get a distinct smell of ink and paper, and see and hear these great big, loud machines going ‘ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk,’’ Hoen, now 56, recalls. ‘What more could a 10-year-old boy want?’
“But by 1981, the cacophony had stopped, silenced in part by the development of newer presses that ran faster and cheaper but arguably did not match the quality of Hoen’s. A. Hoen & Co. became yet another East Baltimore manufacturing plant to shutter, leaving the people of the surrounding neighborhoods without the well-paying jobs they had counted on for generations.
“The building, as well as the Collington Square community surrounding it, deteriorated. Other businesses left, vacant rowhouses became the norm, and the drug trade flourished. By the 2000s, ‘vacancy and abandonment had reached extraordinary levels,’ says Michael Braverman, commissioner of the city’s Department of Housing & Community Development.
“The grim landscape of East Baltimore’s boarded-up houses and languishing Hoen building, which the city then owned, was travelers’ first view of Baltimore as they arrived on Amtrak trains from the north. The negative impression was something that particularly bothered developer Bill Struever. As a fervent city booster who had made a career of redeveloping woebegone landmarks, he took it personally.
“In 2015, when he learned that the city was soliciting requests for proposals for the Hoen complex—six separate buildings encompassing roughly 83,000 square feet—his company, Cross Street Partners, and co-developer City Life Historic Properties applied. By 2016, the buildings were effectively theirs—for just $200,000.
“After meetings with members of the community and Karen D. Stokes, who was then the CEO of nonprofit Strong City Baltimore, the firms decided to redevelop the Hoen campus into a neighborhood hub, filled with agencies that could address local challenges. The complex would offer job training programs, adult education, and offices for community nonprofits and researchers committed to solving Baltimore’s problems. With Strong City involved as both a nonprofit partner and the site’s first tenant, the developers dubbed the complex the Center for Neighborhood Innovation and began the formidable task of trying to recruit other renters to a decrepit property that had sat vacant for 35 years.” (Sugarman, Summer 2020)