A $23.5 million economic development project to transform 3.5 acres of dilapidated buildings and overgrown lots into a vibrant urban culinary center is underway with pro bono assistance from Ballard Spahr real estate attorneys.

Attorneys from the firm's Baltimore office helped the nonprofit developer—American Communities Trust (ACT)—secure the land for the Baltimore Food Hub and negotiate leases and other agreements to enable the effort to move forward. The project—to include teaching and commercial production kitchens, food manufacturing, job training, urban farming, and a market—broke ground last week at 1801 E. Oliver St. in East Baltimore. The site was formerly a Baltimore City Water Works pumping and repair station but has been in disuse and decaying for many years. It is considered a gateway site because of its visibility to passengers on Amtrak trains that pass through the city.

Ballard Spahr has a long history of pro bono work and civic activity to improve Baltimore for residents, workers, businesses, and visitors. The Baltimore Food Hub will provide economic development, create jobs, and increase access to healthy food for low-income residents.

ACT CEO China Boak Terrell said Thomas A. Hauser and Devin T. Kitchelt—Baltimore-based attorneys in Ballard Spahr's nationally recognized Real Estate Department—played a crucial role in preparing the project for groundbreaking.

"There were a lot of moving parts and tight deadlines. Tom and Devin picked up all of it," Ms. Boak Terrell said. "They were extremely responsive and worked very hard. The guidance they provided was essential in setting us up to create positive change for low-income residents."

Ballard Spahr's Baltimore-based real estate practice consistently ranks among the best in the region in peer review surveys for its skill and experience handling real estate development and finance transactions, including some of the region's largest, most complex, and most high-profile projects.

ACT, a national community development organization that serves low-income communities, is partnering with the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition to build the teaching and commercial production kitchens, and with City Seeds, the culinary arm of the Baltimore-based nonprofit Humanim, which will operate a catering social enterprise that will provide jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities to residents. Funding is from a variety of sources including the federal, state, and city governments as well as private foundations including the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The first phase of the project is expected to open as early as summer 2017.