Renewal set for E. Baltimore

February 07, 1994|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore, the state and the Johns Hopkins medical institutions are joining together to revitalize a huge tract of about 180 square blocks in East Baltimore, hoping to attract "tens of millions" in development money over the next few years.

The Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition was created Friday to improve housing, to foster business development and jobs and to improve social services in the decayed neighborhoods around Hopkins Hospital.

The area -- which also includes the Somerset and Douglass Homes housing projects and Dunbar High School -- is more than twice the size and has four times as many residents as West Baltimore's Sandtown-Winchester, which is in the midst of its own heralded revitalization effort.

The coalition was set up with separate $150,000 grants from the city, the state and Hopkins medical institutions, for a total of $450,000. It will seek development money in the form of government grants and private investment.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said Friday that the East Baltimore effort, along with Sandtown-Winchester, would help the city in the competition to be named one of nine federal empowerment zones, a designation that would bring in $100 million in new money from the federal government.

Mr. Schmoke also said it would help Baltimore retain the Hopkins medical institutions, which have a combined budget of more than $1 billion a year and have more than 11,000 faculty, students and staff.

"Both [the city and the state] are concerned about whether Hopkins is going to stay and flourish," the mayor said.

Dr. James A. Block, president and chief executive officer of Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health Systems, said Hopkins is providing seed money for the organization because "we are an integral part of this community. We're interested in seeing further development around the hospital."

The effort will benefit Hopkins employees, many of whom live in the area around the hospital, and will also help the hospital continue to draw patients by making it safer and more attractive, Dr. Block said.

"There are many advantages to everyone that we continue to be successful. It's important that we work with the community to enhance the environment in which we work," he said.

Dr. Block said Johns Hopkins gives about $8 million a year to various neighborhood programs, adding, "I anticipate we'll do more" as part of the initiative.

A key element of the effort is broad community participation. Neighborhood residents have a majority of seats on a 50-member planning committee and three of 10 seats on the governing board.

Lucille Gorham, who heads two East Baltimore community groups, said she hopes the effort creates "a much better relationship between the neighborhoods and the Hopkins' institutions," which have had an uneasy co-existence because of Hopkins' past expansion needs.

"We can sit down face-to-face and talk to each other. We've always had trouble doing that in the past," said Ms. Gorham, director of Citizens for Fair Housing and the Middle East Community Organization.

Ms. Gorham also said she was "really hopeful" the effort would improve housing, education and employment opportunities in the area.

The Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition, in the planning stages for more than a year, is an outgrowth of a task force on the East Monument corridor.

It covers an irregularly shaped area bounded roughly by North Avenue and Biddle Street on the north; Patterson Park and Montford avenues on the east; Fayette Street on the south; and Broadway, Eden and Aisquith streets on the west.

The effort is being headed by Danise Jones-Dorsey, a mayoral aide who spent six months last year as interim deputy director of the city's Housing Authority.

The area has 47,524 residents, 43 percent of whom live in poverty, and a 9 percent unemployment rate, according to Ms. Dorsey.

Of 17,654 housing units in the area, she said, 13 percent are vacant and 65 percent occupied by renters.

Ms. Jones-Dorsey said the $450,000 provided by the city, state and Hopkins would fund a six-person staff, an office and other expenses through the first year.

She said that no additional money has yet been received but that the organization would be seeking city, state and federal money for specific projects as well as foundation grants and private investment funds.

NationsBank has expressed interest in "brokering investment" in the area, she said.

Ms. Jones-Dorsey said the money to be invested in the area "is definitely going to be millions of dollars . . . I think tens of millions is very reasonable."

A consultant, hired with a separate $60,000 grant from Johns Hopkins, should have a preliminary master plan available by next month, she said.

Even though the group was only incorporated Friday, some projects are already beyond the talking stage.

Among them is a pilot project for an after-school and summer program at Chick Webb Recreation Center in the 600 block of Eden St., for which funding is being sought, Ms. Jones-Dorsey said.

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