State pushing low-interest loans to revitalize Baltimore businesses

State pushing low-interest loans to revitalize Baltimore businesses

Photo above: Brewer Mike Kolankowski pours the yet-to-be unveiled Old Oriole Park Beer Bohemian Lager in tasting room of Peabody Heights Brewery. (Photos by Rebecca Lessner)

By Rebecca Lessner


Maryland officials are looking to use micro-loans as a key tool in neighborhood revitalization, congratulating one state department on its efforts to support small business following the Freddie Gray protests.

Gov. Hogan praised the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) at the Board of Public Works meeting last Wednesday, saying their assistance to Baltimore City small businesses after the state of emergency will help move the city toward “business as usual.”

“I think that micro-loan and micro-investment are really, really key to community growth and health,” said State Treasurer Nancy Kopp. “Using that to make people independent, not just in Baltimore City but throughout the state, would be a great next step for Maryland.”

Gap-financing to small businesses

The Neighborhood BusinessWorks loan program offers gap-financing to small businesses located in areas of need, and Business Recovery Loan is an emergency program recently enacted to offer no-interest loans to small businesses affected by the riots.

“This is the first time we’ve ever offered it at zero-percent,” said Carol Gilbert, the housing department’s assistant secretary for neighborhood revitalization. “Our secretary asked us to make it as simple and fast as possible and that’s what we’ve done.”

Since clean-up efforts had begun, DHCD and First Lady Yumi Hogan have had meetings with small business owners. Yumi Hogan is Korean-American and discussed in Korean the programs the state offers to help businesses regain their footing in the community.

“Of the 300 businesses damaged, most of them were Asian owned businesses and a majority of them were Korean,” said Hogan. “There was specific targeting of those groups.”

The department has translated loan applications into Spanish and Korean and plan to translate to other languages as needed.

Funding for the Maryland Business Recovery loan program comes out of the state’s $5 million Neighborhood BusinessWorks loan program, created to support businesses that can’t fully finance their openings, renovations or expansions from private sources.

To qualify for the program, business must be located in “Sustainable Communities,” areas identified by county governments as a low-income area in need of a revitalization strategy or guided investments.

Businesses may be awarded up to $35,000 for micro-loans (at 0% interest) and typically up to $500,000 for larger loans (at 4% interest).

“We are not replacing the private sector, we are providing a bridge for small business owners who are not able to fully finance their projects,” said Gilbert.

Untapped potential

Peabody Heights Brewery, located in the heart of Charles Village just north of downtown Baltimore near Johns Hopkins University, was approved by BPW for a maximum $500,000 loan through the Neighborhood BusinessWorks program.

With state assistance, the expanding brewery plans to nearly double its jobs, partner with more brewers across the state, open a tasting room and recently installed more fermenters.

“This is a growth industry in Maryland, somewhat as an untapped potential,” said Gilbert, receiving some laughs for the intentional pun. “The impact is very significant in Maryland.”

Gilbert estimates the impact breweries have in Maryland is about $450 million a year.

The brewery itself operates as a co-op for local craft brewers, who use the space to produce beers like Raven Beer, Public Works’ Ale, Full Tilt’s Baltimore Pale Ale and a soon-to-be released Old Oriole Park Bohemian Lager, tying into the brewery’s historic location.

“Every square-inch of this brewery sits in what used to be left field, center field, second base and third base of what used to be old Oriole Park number five,” said brewery owner and president, Richard O’Keefe. “The history of this building is incredible.”

“It’s a great example of entrepreneurial spirit and how a little help from the state can invest and create jobs in an area that desperately needs them,” said Gov. Hogan.

Resource for other brew pubs

Peabody Kolakowski points

Assistant general manager Mike Kolankowski at the co-op brewery.(Photos by Rebecca Lessner)

Peabody fermenters

Brewer Grahm Crisler walks down aisle of fermenters.

Peabody draws in business from brew-pubs from across the state.

During a tour at the brewery this week, Mike Kolankowski, assistant general manager and brewer at Peabody, said he believes the brewing industry in Maryland has great potential for growth as these beer-focused restaurants begin to expand.

Motioning to the vast brewery filled with lines of fermenting stills, Kolankowski said, “This is great for brew-pubs because a brew-pub will never have the space. Here, they come in and say I want to mass produce something…this is built for that business.”

According to Gilbert, Housing and Community Development Secretary Kenneth Holt hopes to expand the Neighborhood BusinessWorks Program from a $5 million program to a $50 million program in future years.



  1. Dale McNamee

    How many of the poor, unemployed persons
    do craft brewers hire ?

    Baltimore City has to become more “business friendly… Tax – wise and morally…

    On the moral front, the black churches and the community “leaders” should be teaching
    adults, teens, and children how to behave, respect for others and others’ property and businesses, etc. The school’s should be doing so as well…

    Otherwise, any loans will be wasted…

    BTW, I hope that the craft brewers succeed…

  2. MD observer

    Craft brewing is a quaint business, and the loan money evidently funded those magnificent brewing tanks and appurtenances. I’m wondering, however, if DHCD’s due diligence entailed any objective cost-benefit or economic analysis before closing the loan. Did DHCD rigorously document the net employment gains or the real economic payback period?

    I for one would like to see more competition for DHCD’s loan resources. I hope the
    Peabody business prospers.

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