East Baltimore focus

October 22, 2003

IF EAST BALTIMORE'S ambitious $800 million biotech park is to become a reality, the community's redevelopment must follow the project's agreed-upon plan; money and construction cannot be spread in a scattershot fashion.

This is worth repeating because the nonprofit Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) is belatedly trying to muscle its way into the plan now that East Baltimore Development Inc. (EBDI) has more than $30 million in the bank for relocation efforts.

Without notifying either EBDI or the city in advance, eight BUILD-affiliated churches have acquired some 200 vacant or run-down properties in Oliver, just northwest of the biotech park area. BUILD now wants those properties added to 800 others that EBDI planners have targeted for demolition and reconstruction.

Except for the surprising timing, the BUILD proposal - which was unveiled at a church rally Sunday - has considerable merit.

The BUILD properties would nicely fill a gap between the blocks slated for redevelopment by the biotech park planners, just north of the Johns Hopkins medical campus, and the planned expansion of the Great Blacks in Wax Museum at North Avenue and Broadway.

Thus, the size of the renewal area would be significantly increased.

BUILD also argues that its properties could be used for relocating families whose current homes are in the path of the biotech park.

There are serious problems, though.

For one thing, the tortuous two-year resettlement process for the first 200 families is scheduled to start later this month. Since the BUILD properties consist mostly of vacant lots or empty shells, they are not suitable for relocation purposes, unless the overall strategy is altered and delayed.

That cannot be allowed to happen. Any uncertainty and postponements at this point could undo the whole east-side renewal project.

It has taken decades to get badly needed neighborhood revitalization going around the Johns Hopkins medical campus. But efforts to accommodate BUILD participation belatedly could be a deal-breaker, particularly if conflict erupts with the front organizations of the dominant Eastside Democratic Organization, a key stakeholder.

BUILD's instincts are good. More critical mass is needed if renewal is to take hold. But it would be risky to try to widen the redevelopment area before reconstruction has even started. A better idea would be to consider the inclusion of the BUILD properties in the next two stages of the development process.

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