Betting on East Baltimore Makeover: Merchants, civic activists press for an effective renewal effort.

September 28, 1997

THE FIRST RADICAL step in East Baltimore's makeover was an easy one.

Ken Strong was so sure the community's renewal plan would face a fight in the city planning commission that the executive director of the Southeast Development Inc. pledged to cut the pigtail of his hair if it passed without opposition. It did -- and Mr. Strong lost his two-year-old trademark tuft.

The rest of the East Baltimore makeover is likely to be much more difficult. But a coalition of merchants and civic activists is pressing ahead with plans to start an ambitious renewal effort. The push has two focuses: Broadway -- from Johns Hopkins Hospital to Fells Point -- and Eastern Avenue -- from Broadway to Bayview Medical Center.

Aside from these commercial thoroughfares, the plan includes two other thrusts: Redevelopment of new industrial parks in the Pulaski Highway corridor, where vacant plants and brownfield land are plentiful.

The core sites would be the old Hackerman incinerator on Pulaski Highway and the now-abandoned Esskay meatpacking facilities on Baltimore Street. There are offers to transfer these facilities into the hands of community organizations; if concerns over contamination and other liabilities can be resolved, that may yet happen.

Meanwhile, wider planning efforts are continuing, spearheaded by state Sen. Perry Sfikas; the Johns Hopkins University's development arm, Dome Corp.; owners of a local supermarket chain and community weekly, and other East Baltimore movers and shakers.

Gradually, visible changes can be seen. The vacant Provident Bank building at Broadway and Gough Street is soon to be converted into offices and career program center for the area's federally financed empowerment zone effort. A Highlandtown landmark, the old Irvin's Department Store, also is slated to become offices. Its prospective tenants include the Highlandtown Merchants Association, Women Entrepreneurs of Baltimore, Baltimore Care Cooperative and Santoni's Markets.

After some two years of behind-the-scenes work, the partnership is about to unveil its blueprint at a citizens' congress before Christmas. Exciting things are happening in East Baltimore. You can bet on it.

Pub Date: 9/28/97

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