Court is finally OK'd for Brooklyn

Long-delayed project seen as potential spark for neighborhood revival

April 19, 2001|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Maryland's Board of Public Works approved an $11.9 million contract yesterday to build a courthouse in Brooklyn that residents have been waiting to see for more than 15 years.

Groundbreaking is expected next month for the John R. Hargrove Sr. District Court Building at Patapsco Avenue and Seventh Street, with an opening in fall 2002.

The total cost of the courthouse is estimated at $18.4 million and has been approved by the General Assembly.

In addition to the construction contract approved yesterday, $6.5 million will pay for architects and other costs.

Residents say the courthouse will bring a much-needed lift to the struggling neighborhood at the southern tip of Baltimore.

"It will be a big boost," said Brooklyn activist Doris McGuigan. "It will bring more of a police presence here, which means some of the prostitutes and drug dealers will have to leave."

The building will serve the city's southern end with three floors and five courtrooms. It will sit on 6 1/2 acres and house state's attorney and public defender offices.

The 87,203-square-foot courthouse -- to be built by Roy Kirby and Sons Inc. of Baltimore -- will replace the one-room court in the Southern District police station in Cherry Hill and will add to the city's three existing district courts. It will handle traffic cases, civil cases up to $25,000 and landlord-tenant issues.

The new, larger courthouse is expected to help ease a tremendous caseload.

In the past five years, the District Court has seen a 6 percent rise in filings statewide, said Lisa I. Ritter, assistant chief clerk for Judge Martha F. Rasin, chief judge of the state's district courts.

During the same time, Baltimore experienced the greatest increase in filings. Motor vehicle cases jumped almost 25 percent, with the courts handling 125,786 cases in 1999.

Some residents thought they would never see the courthouse built. It was part of a neighborhood revitalization plan for Brooklyn that was put on hold when safety issues derailed plans to build at another site.

"It just took so long, that's why I was skeptical," said Christopher Crocetti, who owns Cristoforos Castle, an Italian restaurant a few blocks from the new courthouse site. "It will probably bring more businesses to the neighborhood. Hopefully, it will bring people this way."

The state originally was to build the courthouse on a lot next to Crocetti's restaurant, on an extension of Garrett Street off Potee Street. For part of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, his parents owned a restaurant in the same building, and they, too, waited for the courthouse, hoping it would anchor the neighborhood's revival. They have since died.

The city built a road there in 1991 for courthouse access, complete with sidewalks, street lights and fire hydrants. It cost taxpayers $590,000. After the road was built, the city and state concluded that methane gas at the site would make occupants of a new building sick, and they abandoned the site.

In a news release yesterday, Gov. Parris N. Glendening said the courthouse will be named after Hargrove, who died in 1997, because his career was "the model of integrity, ability and demeanor."

Hargrove, a senior U.S. District Court judge who cleared a path for African-Americans in Maryland legal circles for nearly four decades, was the first black to become a federal prosecutor in Baltimore and the first black to be named deputy U.S. attorney. He also was the first administrative judge of the District Court system in Maryland and one of the first blacks to be admitted to what was once the all-white Maryland Bar Association.

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