East-side biotech details unveiled

Directors, compensation for those who must move to be announced today

April 15, 2002|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Taking a giant step in getting a proposed East Baltimore biotech park off the drawing board, the city has chosen a well-known banker to head a new nonprofit organization to oversee the project and has agreed to provide displaced homeowners up to $70,000 each to relocate.

Also set is a plan to ensure minority participation in the multimillion-dollar project that includes provisions for job training, development and community reinvestment.

Joseph Haskins Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of Harbor Bank of Maryland, will head an 11-member board made up of representatives named by the city, state, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions and community leaders.

Announcements of the makeup of the board of East Baltimore Development Inc., the relocation package and the plan for minority inclusion - the result of months of sometimes difficult negotiations involving the city, Hopkins and local politicians that did not conclude until Friday evening - are scheduled for 10 a.m. today on a vacant lot in the 1900 block of E. Eager St., just north of the proposed biotech park site.

City officials hope the biotech park, along with the related development of new and renovated housing units, will revitalize the area around the Hopkins medical complex by creating thousands of jobs and demolishing hundreds of decrepit buildings.

"We've all agreed to move forward together with a common view for what East Baltimore can be," said Mayor Martin O'Malley, who first laid out his vision for the project 15 months ago. "That's a big, big step."

Alluding to long-standing mistrust between East Baltimore residents and Hopkins, O'Malley, with somewhat of an exaggeration, said the hardest part in forging the agreements was "400 years of difficult history."

Before the biotech park can be built, the City Council must approve amendments to five urban renewal ordinances covering properties in the area, which the administration hopes to introduce in the next several weeks.

In addition, funds must be found to supplement the $20 million in state and federal money in hand for the project. And tenants must be found to fill laboratories, offices and drug-manufacturing facilities, though Hopkins officials have said they would be interested in renting space for researchers.

"No one can totally predict the speed at which this goes forward," O'Malley said. "Scientific developments and market conditions will determine what the pace of this thing is."

Officials hope new and established companies will be drawn to the biotech park by the prospect of developing commercial drugs from the medical research being done at Hopkins.

Plans developed by Pittsburgh-based Urban Design Associates, after numerous meetings with community residents, call for several buildings - to be built over a period of up to 10 years - that would contain up to 2 million square feet of space. If the park is fully built out, it could employ as many as 8,000 people, a third of them in jobs requiring only a high school diploma, officials say.

Haskins, who was co-chairman of the O'Malley transition team after the mayor's election 2 1/2 years ago, is one of three city appointees to the board overseeing the park. The others are Eddie C. Brown, a philanthropist and founder and president of an investment firm that bears his name, and Jacques R. Rubin, a biotech entrepreneur and executive.

Besides the city appointees, Hopkins and the community will each get to name two members to the board, and the governor will choose one member. Those eight will select the final three members.

Homeowners displaced by the project, estimated at about 300, could receive as much as $70,000 to buy a new house - $22,500 from the city and up to $47,500 from a pool to be raised from private sources, according to Laurie B. Schwartz, deputy mayor for economic and neighborhood development.

That would be in addition to the fair-market value for their homes, which are generally appraised at between $10,000 and $20,000 in the severely depressed residential area.

Assistance would be provided to an estimated 500 low-income renters who also could be forced to move.

As part of the minority inclusion plan, preference in expanded job training programs will be given to qualified residents who have been forced to leave their homes in the mostly poor, black communities around Hopkins.

"This is one of the most significant opportunities Baltimore has for jobs for residents of the neighborhood and the city," Schwartz said.

For projects that receive public dollars or tax breaks, preference would be given to developments that have the greatest percentage of minority investment, similar to what is being done in the redevelopment of the west side, Schwartz said.

Another provision would funnel a small percentage of money from land sold to developers to a community development fund to invest in housing or neighborhood businesses, Schwartz said.

The philosophy behind the idea is to provide the neighborhood with a benefit besides the prospect of jobs or improved property values, she said.

"I think it's a really fascinating and important component," she said.

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