A green light for biotech

April 17, 2002

THINK ABOUT the importance of this scene:

Mayor Martin O'Malley, U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Del. Hattie N. Harrison and Del. Clarence Davis standing together on a desolate East Baltimore lot, promising to work together to enable a sweeping renaissance in the area. They were smiling. They were hopeful.

No need to pinch yourself; this was no dream. The bitter and defeatist political rivalries that have helped keep East Baltimore a slum may finally be waning.

All the interested parties have now agreed on the ground rules for the development of Johns Hopkins Medical Center's planned biotech park. They've worked out power-sharing problems, ensured adequate minority participation in the doling out of contracts, and arrived at fair relocation payments for those who will lose their homes.

If it all holds together, and the City Council comes through with promised enabling legislation, some 8,000 jobs could materialize in the next few years. The park would make Baltimore even more of a major medical/technical hub and would replace a 100-acre veritable wasteland -- falling-down rowhouses, crack havens and vacant lots -- with an $800 million economic engine.

The key now is for the oversight board to bird-dog other potential foibles in this plan.

The board must see to it that Hopkins can secure the private investments in the park that it promises. This idea won't work without the commitments of quite a few companies to locate in the new park.

The board must also ensure that the relocation packages pan out for residents, that the promised reinvestment in the area takes place, and that other community concerns don't get sidelined once the project gets going. The truth is that some of the skepticism in the community with regard to development is justified in its foundation -- if not in its effects.

Mr. Cummings told The Sun Monday that there won't be another opportunity like this for a lifetime in East Baltimore. He couldn't have said it better. This kind of cooperation is nearly unprecedented. Everyone involved should make sure it doesn't go to waste.

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