Revitalization hopes expanding in city

URBAN CHRONICLE

Rebuilding: A community leader in Patterson Park is looking to extend renewal efforts in that neighborhood to the critical area east of Hopkins.

March 06, 2003|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

AFTER YEARS of focusing on the revitalization of the area around East Baltimore's Patterson Park, Ed Rutkowski is setting his sights northward and westward -- if only for a few blocks.

The executive director of the Patterson Park Community Development Corp. has come up with a tentative proposal for redeveloping what he calls "East of Hopkins" -- a 15-square-block swath of mostly abandoned and dilapidated properties adjacent to the Johns Hopkins medical complex.

Rutkowski sees the revitalization of East of Hopkins as a way to build on the strength of the medical complex and the proposed biotechnology park to its north as well as a way to preserve the progress of renewal made in the Butchers Hill and Patterson Park neighborhoods to the south.

To fully accomplish these goals, Rutkowski said in a recent interview, the redevelopment effort must extend between Fayette and Madison streets all the way to Edison Highway, an area five times larger than the one he has spotlighted.

"That could take 20 years," he acknowledged. "But if you don't start, you'll never do it."

While withholding judgment on the plan until they have a chance to study it further, major players in east-side redevelopment welcome Rutkowski's interest.

Laurie Schwartz, the acting chief executive officer of East Baltimore Development Inc., the nonprofit group set up to oversee the creation of the biotech park and hundreds of units of new and renovated housing, called the proposal an "excellent analysis" that could form a foundation for action.

"The success of [East Baltimore Development] will depend not just on acting within our boundaries, but the strength of the surrounding neighborhoods," she said.

And Ronald R. Peterson, executive vice president of Johns Hopkins Medicine, said in a statement, "As always, we are interested in listening and working with neighboring communities to improve services and opportunities for those who live and work in the region."

Rutkowski's proposal -- he calls it a "concept paper" -- has more than a modicum of credibility because of his success in heading the Patterson Park CDC.

In the past several years, the CDC has renovated about 250 houses, helping to spark an increase in home values and paving the way for private developers to become involved in restoring properties.

Rutkowski said the nonprofit development group could play a similar role east of Hopkins, starting with the area bounded by Fayette Street to the south, Washington Street to the west, Madison Street to the north and Patterson Park Avenue to the east.

In the paper, Rutkowski writes, that to "those who have walked, driven, live or lived in the area, revitalization may seem daunting if not hopeless." But, he adds, "a closer look ... is reason for optimism."

The cost of rebuilding the area is $27 million, he estimates, with the amount of public subsidy ranging between $5 million and $15 million.

He calls on Hopkins to play a "major role" in any effort, by funding a revolving loan pool for development and by offering significant financial incentives to employees who want to move into the area.

And, at the risk of reopening a 6-month-old controversy, he calls on the city's housing authority to abandon its plans to spend $1.5 million to renovate houses in Butchers Hill for public housing tenants and instead put the money into the 50 homes it owns east of Hopkins, many of which are vacant.

Rutkowski envisions demolishing about 250 blighted properties in six areas south of the Northeast Market, of which only two dozen are owned by residents, creating parcels for redevelopment.

In the remaining areas, Rutkowski calls for block-by-block renovations using the kinds of strategic purchases and homebuying incentives that have proven successful in Patterson Park. Of the remaining 464 homes on these streets, Rutkowski says half are owned by those occupying the homes, the city or nonprofit groups.

Improving East of Hopkins would not only close the "deteriorating `hole in the donut' within the strength of the hospital, the proposed biotech park and [the] strengthening neighborhoods to the south," Rutkowski argues. It would also improve the environment around the medical complex, provide another option for residents displaced by the biotech park -- and increase the city's tax base.

The average assessed value for the about 700 properties in the area is $23,000, according to Rutkowski's analysis. An increase of property values to $50,000 would generate an additional $425,000 in annual tax revenues for the city.

The transformation would not happen overnight.

"A target time frame of five years would be appropriate to reach a point where a positive future is not in doubt," he writes.

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