A prescription for future health

Renewal: The O'Malley administration can begin to revitalize the city's sluggish economy by focusing on four critical areas.

Reviving Baltimore

November 07, 1999|By Garland L. Thompson

AGENDA ITEMS for Mayor-elect Martin O'Malley: Election Day is past, and it is time to begin readying Baltimore for the next century, with an economy that can compete and with people who are equipped to make it go.

Our city's economy charitably can be described as depressed, but it doesn't have to stay that way. The region is going gangbusters, and the Inner Harbor continues to collect tourist dollars. But in the neighborhoods, the economy continues to stagger. The railroaders said it best: Baltimore needs new infrastructure to stay competitive. Norfolk Southern and CSX were talking about enlarging a rail tunnel to boost freight traffic, but their point applies generally to Baltimore beyond the harbor. The new administration should kick start growth in four areas:

* Transportation, especially for the masses;

* Commercial development, centered on the city's black colleges;

* Commercial corridor renewal;

* Adult education for the 21st century.

Let's quit boasting about taking the subway to Johns Hopkins. East Baltimore has needed better transit for decades. Extend that line to the Morgan State University campus, then to White Marsh. Look at the benefits:

East Baltimoreans can't easily get to jobs and business opportunities or to shopping areas. With a subway extension, they can. And with more traffic, businesses in East Baltimore could prosper.

Stops could be at Gay and Preston streets, North Avenue, Saint Lo Drive and Harford Road, for Lake Clifton-Eastern High School; 33rd Street and Hillen Road for Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School; Northwood Shopping Center; and Cold Spring and Hillen Road.

Morgan State is Maryland's urban university. Urban universities need mass transit to work well. How else do the staff, night students and commuters get in and out? Morgan State often hosts entertainment, sports events, lectures and other activities that bring out lots of people. Transit makes it easier to plan such activities, and to involve the whole community in the university.

Public transit also would ease the commuting problem for the two high schools, and bring new traffic to Northwood. It would permit night classes at Mervo. The North Avenue stop would spur development on the avenue's eastern end. Great Blacks in Wax, Sojourner-Douglass College, and the Stop, Shop & Save supermarket would be within walking distance.

Commercial magnets

Morgan State and Coppin State College pump a lot of business into the city but are not seen as the commercial magnets they could be. Morgan State's 6,000 students could easily support a commercial zone across Hillen Road from the main campus at Cold Spring Lane. This could be anchored by a multiscreen movie theater offering repertory, offbeat films as well as Hollywood hits. The theater could also double as a meeting hall. Also needed:

* Sporting goods and clothing stores;

* A bookstore with university memorabilia as well as leisure reading for African-Americans, textbooks and study materials;

* A major-league newspaper and magazine rack;

* Fast-food, vegetarian and conventional adult restaurants, and a 24-hour convenience store;

* Barbershop and beauty parlor;

* Appliance store, stereo shop and music store;

* A student rathskeller and billiard parlor;

* Several bars-restaurants with live entertainment. Businesses would of necessity operate late hours, because students are up at all hours. Commuters need places to chill out, too.

Coppin State now has its first dorm, and could handle more resident students. What Coppin State needs, in addition to a commercial strip facing its North Avenue campus, is city-backed, off-campus housing. Such a program would inspect and approve housing for Coppin State students, faculty and staff, and could offer financial incentives and assistance to make it happen. The area also would need site beautification, and special policing. Coppin State could expand its security force with authority to patrol nearby blocks.

Coppin State also needs better transit. A rail line passes the North Avenue campus. It doesn't carry passengers, but a MARC shuttle could run from Fulton and Winchester streets in the east to Wabash Avenue and West Cold Spring Lane. That would connect an under-served West Baltimore neighborhood to the Metro. Station stops could serve Carver Vocational-Technical High School at Bentalou Street, across from Easterwood Park; Coppin State at North Avenue; Mondawmin Mall at Fairview Avenue at Gwynns Falls Parkway; and Baltimore City Community College, where the rails cross Liberty Heights Avenue. Stops at Sequoia and Hilton avenues could serve Ashburton and lower Park Heights as well.

Campus commercial zones need not threaten Mondawmin Mall or Northwood Shopping Center. They have other clientele, and don't serve student populations well. The older malls would get new traffic from the transit stops.

Housing improvements

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