Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke traveled to the East Baltimore stronghold of his chief political rival yesterday to trumpet $17 million in development projects in four neighborhoods along the Harford Road corridor.
One of the projects announced by the mayor includes a $103,000 city loan to build two bars, lounges and meeting rooms in the clubhouse of the Poets' Athletic Club, a non-profit fraternal organization of former Paul Laurence Dunbar High School athletes.
Another project the mayor announced was the construction of a Rite Aid Discount Pharmacy on city-owned land that had been vacant since riots swept through the area in the late 1960s. The $600,000 retail store is being built entirely with private money on a weed-clogged vacant lot purchased from the city.
The remaining projects include about 80 new and rehabbed housing units for ownership and rent.
In addition to these projects, Mr. Schmoke highlighted a separate initiative -- a 150-unit scattered-site housing project known as Nehemiah III -- that will go forward if Baltimore receives the grant it is seeking from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The $13.5 million Nehemiah III project would, if approved, include units throughout the Oliver, Johnston Square and Oldtown communities.
Several other cities have applied for the grant, which will not be awarded until this fall.
"Just about every aspect of life you can think about is affected by the ability to provide decent, affordable housing," Mr. Schmoke told a small crowd gathered in front of the Poets' clubhouse, a three-story, brick row house at 920 E. North Ave.
The projects described by the mayor would benefit an area of East Baltimore that is the home ground of former Mayor Clarence H. "Du" Burns, who is running against Mr. Schmoke in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary.
Mr. Burns last week attacked the Schmoke administration's housing programs and said the city was allowing vacant city-owned housing units to deteriorate and drag down their neighborhoods.
The 26-member Poets' club, which has applied for a private club liquor license, plans to use the city loan, plus $35,000 of its own money, to build a 20-foot bar and lounge on the first floor, a 12-foot bar and meeting area on the second floor and club offices on the third floor.
Members of the club, formed in 1960 by former athletes who attended Dunbar High School, said they
planned to make the clubhouse available for senior citizens' activities and other charitable functions. They said the club planned to host parties for deserving children on the second floor, where the bar will be concealed behind a roll-down metal door.
"This will strengthen the club and strengthen the community," said Herbert Alston Jr., the Poet's club business manager, urging the gathering to vote for the mayor.
A spokesman for Mayor Schmoke directed questions about the propriety of using city money to renovate a social club to a Baltimore Housing and Community Development department spokesman, who said there was nothing wrong in the city assisting the club.
"This is not going to be a raucous tavern with drunk people wandering around at night," spokesman Bill Toohey said.
"This will be a stabilizing influence on that block. The Poets have long been a positive influence in East Baltimore," he said.