Snag in East Baltimore renewal Blight spreads: Renewal around Johns Hopkins Hospital bogs down.

October 20, 1997

WHEN A $34 million plan was announced two years ago to attack blight around the Johns Hopkins medical institutions, it promised hope for one of the most dilapidated slum areas in the city. This hope is now evaporating. Instead of quick action that would produce momentum, the whole effort has bogged down.

A good example was the Board of Estimates' approval last week of the first $1.7 million toward the plan. Those who want to celebrate this as a sign of progress can do so. But let's not forget that this money was to have been made available 16 months ago. It was not -- because of wrangling by the City Council.

The rough outline of the East Baltimore plan remains unchanged: Some 400 of the worst houses are to be demolished; 500 others are to be rehabilitated and sold to homeowners.

This is still an exciting blueprint that has our enthusiastic support. Unless something is done to rid the vicinity of the Johns Hopkins and Kennedy Krieger medical institutions of crime and grime, Baltimore City risks losing assets that are crucial to its economic health.

At the same time, we are troubled by the slow progress of efforts to reconfigure a number of slum neighborhoods and decrease their density. Every day that is lost in power games and red tape means more abandoned houses.

Already, the deterioration is shocking. Not even the best residential blocks seem to be immune to vandalism by drug addicts, who steal copper pipes, aluminum window frames and fireplace mantels.

Also in trouble is the 1000 block of North Broadway, which by now was to have been a revitalization showpiece. Half of the east side of that Victorian rowhouse block has been rehabilitated. Work was started on the other half -- and then inexplicably discontinued.

Michael V. Seipp, who heads a public-private partnership known as the Historic East Baltimore Community Coalition, acknowledges he is frustrated by the delays.

Since 1950, when 27 rowhouse blocks were upgraded in a pilot program that won national acclaim, East Baltimore has repeatedly seen its hopes raised and then dashed. No wonder residents are skeptical. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke must get to work -- and cut the red tape that prevents results from being achieved.

Pub Date: 10/20/97

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