Revival project's guard changes N.Y. transit official to run Sandtown effort

August 05, 1996|By James Bock | James Bock,SUN STAFF

The Enterprise Foundation's point man in the effort to transform West Baltimore's Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood has left the project, and a New York City transportation official has been selected to succeed him.

Patrick M. Costigan, who was the Columbia-based foundation's director of neighborhood transformation, has taken a one-year leave of absence to attend Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. He may return to the foundation, but not to his old job.

He will be succeeded by Joan M. Thompson, an assistant commissioner in the New York Department of Transportation's Bureau of Bridges. Thompson, who has worked in New York's government for more than two decades and was once deputy director of the city's neighborhood stabilization program, is to begin work in Baltimore in the middle of next month.

The moves, with the death of Enterprise founder James W. Rouse in April and new leadership at Community Building in Partnership Inc., the nonprofit agency formed to guide the community's revitalization, signal a new era in the 6-year-old Sandtown project.

"It's obviously a transition time," said Allan Tibbels, co-executive director of Sandtown Habitat for Humanity, a church-based group that builds housing in the neighborhood with financial help from Enterprise. "What's on the other side of the transition I don't know. It was always Jim Rouse and Pat. With both not there, it's hard for me to answer.

"Pat's leaving is a tremendous loss to Baltimore," he said.

Costigan, 42, became an Enterprise vice president in 1994 and has worked for the foundation for 11 years. He was the chief planner of the attempt to transform Sandtown, an impoverished neighborhood of 10,000, by changing all its human service systems -- housing, education, health care and public safety -- at once.

He was involved in the Sandtown project from the beginning. Costigan said he remembered walking with Rouse, the developer of Columbia and Harborplace, at Pratt and Calvert streets in 1989 when Rouse coined the phrase "neighborhood transformation" to describe Enterprise's vision for Sandtown. The foundation joined forces with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and neighborhood leaders in 1990 to begin planning the project.

Progress has been slow. About $100 million has been spent or earmarked for housing alone in Sandtown, but the number of vacant houses has increased since the project began. Despite job programs, idle men still cluster on street corners, and the drug trade is evident.

"We've always seen it as a generational process, very long-term," Costigan said. "Change will not happen overnight. It must be done brick by brick."

Costigan said Sandtown achievements to date include: 1,650 housing units newly constructed, rehabbed or under development; formation of a health-care consortium and three school-based clinics; a reduction in violent crime; job programs that have placed 450 people; adoption of a common "core knowledge" curriculum at neighborhood schools; and plans to redevelop Lafayette Market on Pennsylvania Avenue.

He said the frustrations include lack of progress in treating drug abusers and the difficulty in attracting funds for a comprehensive approach to neighborhood change when foundations often prefer to give money to narrowly tailored projects.

Rouse's death and Costigan's departure aroused neighborhood concerns that Enterprise might abandon the project, said Michael Randolph, a community activist and homeowner. But Costigan and other Enterprise officials insist the foundation's efforts will not flag.

"We are even more committed to see this through," Costigan said. "The foundation will be involved as long as people feel we're helpful and contributing."

Thompson, whose appointment officially has not been announced by Enterprise, was not available for comment. As assistant commissioner of New York's Bureau of Bridges, she has overseen a $65 million budget. She is a former assistant commissioner for equal employment opportunity with the New York City Police Department.

Ronica L. Houston, a former Philadelphia public housing official, became Community Building in Partnership's chief executive officer in December. She said the job now is to "get to the point where residents are fully in control and have the capacity to sustain the process."

While neighborhood people make up a majority of the partnership's board of directors, residents grumble that home-grown leaders still are not in command of much of what happens in Sandtown.

"I think community people certainly are trying to take over, but still feel that as opposed to things coming from the grass roots up, they're dictated from the top down," Randolph said.

"My concern is that most community meetings consist of senior citizens and single-parent females. The African-American males tend to be on the corners, not in the meetings. Until we get them off the corners and into the concept of community, rebuilding Sandtown will be a slow process," he said.

Pub Date: 8/05/96

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