City chooses zone for 'empowerment'

February 23, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer Staff writer William F. Zorzi Jr. contributed to this article.

In an article yesterday. Michael V. Seipp's current position with the Baltimore Development Corp. was incorrect. He is the vice president.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Baltimore officials have selected huge sections of the poor, decaying neighborhoods that lie beyond the prosperous Inner Harbor as a prospective empowerment zone in their campaign to win as much as $100 million in new federal grants.

Hundreds of volunteers will be dispatched over the next few months to develop an ambitious plan to transform nearly seven square miles spanning the east and west sides, as well as the industrial south. By June 30, the blueprint for reform must be submitted to the federal government, which will pick nine cities for the grants.


"For the last 10 years, the federal [agenda] was almost pointedly destructive for urban areas," Michael V. Seipp, acting president of the Baltimore Development Corp., said yesterday.

"People get shellshocked. You almost develop this attitude that things can't be done. We want to say in this process that now things can be done," he said.

The proposed empowerment zone covers hundreds of blocks of abandoned homes, weed-infested lots, aging factories and boarded-up public housing. The once-thriving neighborhoods have languished over the past few decades with government neglect and the flight of the middle class to the suburbs.

The zone stretches on the west side from Mondawmin to Interstate 95. It includes 180 square blocks of East Baltimore that have begun a heralded revitalization effort. To the south, it includes the Fairfield area, which would be targeted primarily for job creation and training programs.

A third of the 72,725 residents in the proposed empowerment zone live in poverty. Much of the housing is substandard, students drop out at higher than average rates, and neighborhoods tend to have high crime rates, said Mr. Seipp, who is working full time with several committees to develop the application for federal aid.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke started the campaign with a pledge to go after the federal grants and tax credits "like a military-style operation." Last night, he rallied some 70 neighborhood activists, business leaders and city officials serving on an advisory panel.

"We're working very, very, very hard to have the best possible application," he said. "We have strong support from the neighborhoods, the business community, the nonprofit community and various levels of government."

Baltimore faces a stiff fight because it doesn't meet the specifications for five of the nine zones. Three must go to rural areas, one to a city with a population under 500,000 and another to a city that borders on two states.

Mayor Schmoke and other political leaders believe that the nation's most populous cities, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, are leading candidates for three of the remaining four zones.

Nevertheless, the mayor is as optimistic as his task force. Baltimore already has begun highly touted efforts to coordinate social services and rejuvenate both the Sandtown-Winchester and East Greenmount neighborhoods. Mr. Schmoke also has close ties to U.S. Housing Secretary Henry G. Cisneros, who will make the final decision on the aid.

"I think Baltimore has a great shot," said Hathaway Ferebee, an advisory committee member and director of Citizens Planning and Housing Association of Baltimore. "It's an incredible opportunity after many years of relatively no urban agenda from the federal government. People in Baltimore really know how to rise to the occasion."

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