Strengthening Sandtown New director: Change occurs at a critical time for West Baltimore revival neighborhood.

September 06, 1996

THERE ARE significant changes afoot at the Enterprise Foundation's ambitious project to transform West Baltimore's impoverished Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood. The Enterprise Foundation's point man in the effort, Patrick M. Costigan, is leaving to spend a year at Harvard.

The Sandtown experiment was the brainchild of James W. Rouse, the visionary developer who died in April. But Mr. Costigan has been the nuts-and-bolts executive. His successor, Joan M. Thompson, once was deputy director of New York City's neighborhood revitalization program. But she comes here as an outsider and not as a disciple or confidante of Mr. Rouse.

The change occurs at a critical time for Sandtown-Winchester.

About $100 million has been spent or earmarked for housing alone in the project that was begun in 1987, but the general neighborhood is still deteriorating and the jury on the project's long-term success is still out. And while Sandtown retains a high national profile, the city has clearly failed to do all it could in helping neighborhood transformation.

Look at Pennsylvania Avenue, on the eastern edge of the Sandtown project area. The old Lafayette Market is being given a $4 million face-lift, but one of the city's most visible open-air drug markets operates just three blocks away -- in front of a Catholic church and not far from a public library! Judging from a recent crackdown, it has at last been noticed by the police.

Cleaning the larger neighborhood is particularly important now that the city, after many delays, has finally started rehabilitating some 600 vacant rowhouses. Unlike rehabs done by the Enterprise Foundation and Habitat for Humanity, which have been sold to low-income homeowners, half of those rowhouses will contain rental units and are likely to increase transience. Improvement and stability are possible only if obvious pockets of crime and gathering places for criminals are eliminated -- and if the programs to improve the neighborhood reach out to the men who now have no positive role to play in their community.

Mr. Costigan's departure represents an inevitable transition in this project -- and also an opportunity for the Enterprise Foundation to demonstrate that its commitment is serious, long-term and designed to make a difference.

Pub Date: 9/06/96

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