City boosts tech park

Plan for biotechnology focuses on east side near Hopkins Hospital

Some neighbors skeptical

1,000 housing units, 4,000 jobs projected

demolition required

May 22, 2001|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

In a bold new effort to reinvigorate the decayed area north of the Johns Hopkins medical complex in East Baltimore, the O'Malley administration is pushing ahead with a preliminary plan for a major biotechnology park and up to 1,000 housing units.

Developed after months of study and to be done in stages over several years, the plan could require the demolition of hundreds of properties, many of them vacant and in need of repair, and displace a still-to-be-determined number of homeowners and renters in a 50-acre pie-shaped swath.

In their place would be several buildings with more than 1 million square feet of office and laboratory space that would abut the Hopkins complex and, it is hoped, draw new and established companies attracted by the research being done at Hopkins, officials said.

The biotech park, which could employ as many as 4,000 workers, would be edged by green space and ringed by a mix of newly constructed subsidized and market-rate housing.

Many specifics are to be worked out, including overall costs and financing, sites of the biotech buildings and Hopkins' role in the biotech park. But administration officials say they want to introduce legislation before the City Council in the fall specifying which properties need to be acquired to get the project off the ground.

"It's clear the city has never capitalized on Hopkins," said Laurie Schwartz, the city's deputy mayor for economic and community development. "This is a unique opportunity for this community. We should proceed with the planning towards implementation."

Last night, officials outlined the project to residents of the Middle East community, which has had a long history of contentiousness with the medical campus.

In a spirited and at times stormy meeting, many residents, concerned about the fate of their homes, interrupted presentations with catcalls and questions.

"We need to know what's going to happen to our properties," said Helen Champlin, one of more than 100 people who packed the auditorium of the Elmer A. Henderson Elementary School.

Others were openly skeptical that jobs and housing would benefit their neighborhood, saying other programs had little effect. "The empowerment zone did not empower East Baltimore," said John Hammock.

Some, however, argued that a biotechnology park was the best hope for reviving the battered community.

"I'd like to ask all of my neighbors who are here, `What else?' We need an economic plan," said Harold L. Madison Jr., an east-side homeowner and businessman.

Del. Hattie Harrison, an East Baltimore Democrat, also spoke in favor of the plan.

"Let's get real with this thing," she said. "We have an opportunity to rebuild East Baltimore."

Before the meeting, some community leaders, while saying they did not have a position on the biotech park, had complained that they were not being kept adequately informed.

"There's a mistrust of the city, a mistrust of Hopkins, a mistrust of the process," said the Rev. Reginald M. Clark, pastor of the Greater New St. John Baptist Church and an organizer of the Save Middle East Action Committee. "We want to get where every stakeholders' rights are protected."

The project does not have an overall price tag, but an early estimate put the cost of the biotech park at $65 million, including demolition, relocation and construction.

One of two consultants whose market research indicated that the project could be successful cautioned that the plan was "very preliminary" and was contingent on financing and on continued strength in biotechnology and the local housing market.

"I want to underscore the fact that this is Phase I of this project," said John C. Brophy of Columbia-based Brophy and Reilly, who worked on the plan with Urban Design Associates of Pittsburgh. "Describing it does not make it so. It is a long way from happening."

The plan represents a significant departure from the previous effort to redevelop the area, which has suffered from decades of disinvestment despite the presence of the world-renowned Johns Hopkins Hospital and School of Medicine.

Seven years ago, the city, state and Hopkins created the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition to revive the blighted neighborhoods around the medical campus. But the group's strategy of trying to shore up blocks by rehabilitating individual houses with millions of dollars in federal money failed to halt the physical deterioration of the east side, and its executive director resigned last fall.

Schwartz said a key difference is that the O'Malley administration's plan is "market-driven."

"It's not guesswork," she said. "It's not gut. It's feasibility analysis by professionals."

That analysis, which cost $130,000 and was financed by the Abell and Goldseker foundations, found that of the 50 biotech companies nationwide responding to its survey, 88 percent expected to expand within five years and 58 percent would consider renting space near Hopkins.

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