A chance for renewal

January 08, 2003

IF BALTIMORE wants to reverse decades of population loss -- and it does -- then more jobs of all types must be created. One place where the city hopes to do this is an underused industrial area just west of Ravens Stadium.

The Baltimore Development Corp. has targeted a 500-acre expanse of warehouses and vacant land for revitalization that could add more than 2,700 jobs. The goal is to create 1.1 million square feet of new construction in the corridor between Russell Street and Washington Boulevard. That's nearly as much space as is in the recently renovated Montgomery Park office complex.

This is ambitious stuff, but it should be done -- and with the nearby Montgomery Park reconstruction nearing completion, the time to do it is now.

The whole area is in dire need of transformation. As deterioration spread and jobs disappeared, the Carroll Park-Pigtown Census tracts lost 15 percent of their population from 1990 to 2000. The adjoining West Baltimore area stretching north to the Mulberry Street corridor experienced an even steeper decline: Its population fell by 21 percent.

Over the next two years, the Baltimore Development Corp. plans to acquire 15 properties and offer them to private investors for industrial, office and retail redevelopment. Meanwhile, Russell Street, the southern gateway to the city, will be reconstructed and a full interchange added to Interstate 95 at Washington Boulevard.

These improvements cannot come soon enough. Even though the area's businesses qualify for state and federal tax credits, recent investments -- led by the $100 million Montgomery Park project -- have been countered by a series of failures. The most recent is a Rite Aid store -- with a coveted liquor license yet -- that is closing at the Mount Clare Junction shopping center.

The Carroll Park-Pigtown neighborhoods are within the sight of downtown and an easy drive from BWI Airport and Washington. They should be particularly marketable as locations for new businesses and residences. The goal now must be to optimize their geographical advantage and turn them into a magnet for economic development.

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