By MELODY SIMMONS
The Daily Record of Baltimore
BALTIMORE (AP) -- Down the street from St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, two new clusters of luxury rowhouses are the latest addition in an ongoing revival of Greektown, for years a staid, traditional enclave on Baltimore's eastern rim.
The first five units of a planned 121 homes opened last month at O'Donnell Square at 755 S. Macon St. Nearby, at 4611 Dillon St., the 81-unit Athena Square development is almost fully sold.
Both projects sit near Greektown's tidy brick-paved streets that hold rows of 98-year-old houses, many with occupants who have lived there for decades and continue traditions from the old country, like tending to potted basil and fig trees and gathering for a strong jolt of coffee and political debate at the corner café each day.
"I think Greektown is so rooted in its culture and the type of community that it is," said Evangelia Dimas, 31, a paralegal who was born and raised in the community and four years ago bought and renovated a rowhouse there.
Dimas represents the old and the new in the neighborhood -- which is what the community is striving to capture as it undergoes a renewal that so far totals about $20 million in new investment.
"It is the perfect location for a young professional," she said.
The area's new housing -- some of the few starts in Baltimore during the recession -- is located close to the gentrified Brewer's Hill and the waterfront in Canton, and officials at builder Ryan Homes say they are using that geography to help sell the O'Donnell Square address. They even offer a free shuttle to the bars in Fells Point on weekend nights.
"We hope this helps to bridge the gap with Canton as it continues to move east," said Kristin Leono, a sales representative at the development where the 1,400-square-foot, brick rowhouses have three levels of living space including a one-car garage.
The O'Donnell Square project was first proposed on a former industrial site as an 1,100-unit development by a group that included former First Mariner Bancorp Chairman Edwin F. Hale Sr.
But Hale exited the group and the McLean, Va.-based development company Kettler moved ahead to break ground on the townhouses last year.
Luke Radlinski, director of land investments for Kettler, said the project has the potential to expand by another 800 units on an adjacent lot.
"We think that they can probably sell 30 to 35 homes per year," Radlinski said.
Such movement, he added, will enhance Greektown's revitalization.
"I think like any neighborhood that gets new construction and new housing stock, it will improve the value of the existing community," Radlinski said. "What they are seeing now are a lot of people moving into the neighborhood and/or the reinvestment in their homes by the Greek community."
Jason Filippou, executive director of the Greektown Community Development Corp., a 10-year-old nonprofit located at 4609 Eastern Ave. that focuses on quality of life issues in the community, agreed.
Walking through the neighborhood with a cup of coffee recently, Filippou pointed out renovation projects along Macon and Lehigh streets and a few new businesses along Eastern Avenue.
Alliance Realty, co-owned by suburban restaurateur John Zoulis, recently renovated an old bakery at 514 Oldham St., and retired Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge John C. Themelis has renovated an old rowhouse and opened a private law office at 4610 Eastern Ave.
"You'll see Judge Themelis working all day long there and sweeping the alley at night," Filippou said. "That's the type of
stakeholders we have."
He said that bargain hunters can purchase houses in Greektown at short sale for as little as $40,000. Fully rehabbed three-bedroom houses carry a price up to $195,000.
"Greektown is the next up-and-coming neighborhood," Filippou said. "We've had our ups and downs, but you'll see a lot of people moving in and new businesses opening up."
One example is the upcoming move of Ikaros Restaurant one block east on Eastern Avenue into a larger building. The new restaurant will have a large bar, dining room seating for 170, a large rotisserie to continuously roast a whole lamb and a brick oven. The menu will have 15 new dishes and fresh seafood will be on display, said owner Xenos Kohilas, who has operated Ikaros in Greektown since 1969.
"The community is diverse," he said. "It is solid and has the church, restaurants, gift shops and cafes. The residents here are the backbone."
Michael Georgalas, whose family owns Samos Restaurant nearby, moved back to Greektown five years ago to raise his own family in a rowhouse on Ponca Street.
"I live behind my grandmother's house and we share the same alley," Georgalas said.
As workers put up large tents on Ponca Street for this weekend's annual Greek festival at St. Nicholas Church, the community buzzed with energy. Filippou and his brother are organizing a walking tour of available housing options the community Saturday morning, ending up at the festival where all participants will be treated to a free lunch.
So far, 30 people have signed up -- another encouraging sign, he said.
"It's a great mix of young and old," said Mike Davio, a local booster who moved into the community in 2007 and is a board member of the Greektown CDC. "I am not Greek, but I like to think they have adopted me as an honorary Greek. I have eaten my share of Greek food and drank enough Ouzo."
Information from: The Daily Record of Baltimore, http://www.mddailyrecord.com
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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