What Gore Saw

January 11, 1995

It is the institutions that Baltimoreans take for granted that will revive this city.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer said as much to a gathering of Sun executives last month as he recounted how, in the years preceding the Inner Harbor triumphs, he had to remind residents that their city held gems like Fort McHenry.

Vice President Al Gore repeated that theme in a meeting at The Sun yesterday to discuss the recently designated $100 million empowerment zone. Marylanders may take for granted Johns Hopkins Hospital, but the vice president speaks of the world-renowned institution with the reverence of a father whose child was saved there. His young son was treated there for months after being hit by a car after an Orioles' opening day six years ago.

"There are boards over the windows and doors of the buildings on Broadway," Mr. Gore said of the neighborhood outside the hospital, "but if there are flowers in those windows and families there, business will follow."

The areas targeted in Baltimore's empowerment zone -- around Johns Hopkins in East Baltimore; Sandtown-Winchester and Pigtown in West Baltimore, and Fairfield in South Baltimore -- suffer from some of the worst urban degradation. With a tenth of the city's population, the areas account for a fifth of its murders and drug arrests. Two-fifths of those areas' 72,000 residents live in poverty.

But in that rocky bed live the roots for a renaissance to flower.

The 5,800-employee Hopkins Hospital in East Baltimore is an underutilized economic machine, one that can attract life-science ventures and businesses to serve thousands of visitors. West Baltimore can benefit from the underrated University of Maryland Medical Center, UMAB's professional schools and a tourist area still in its infancy that encompasses Camden Yards and the B&O Railroad Museum. And Fairfield is ripe for revival as an ecological industrial park, a core for the recycling industries that will be needed to process ever-increasing amounts of reusable waste.

Mr. Gore said Baltimore emerged a winner from the 78 cities that competed for an empowerment zone in part because Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's administration was able to leverage $8 in private money for every federal dollar. The wrenching year-long effort to win the grant was the easy part, though. The tough part is making the program work.

If you look past the mummified vacant buildings, as the vice president did, you realize that the Baltimore that had something to build on two decades ago when Mr. Schaefer became mayor still has much to build on now.

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