Hope found for reversing east side's decline

Area can capitalize on resources, study says

November 14, 2003|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Eastern Baltimore City and Baltimore County can capitalize on their links to major transportation routes, abundant industrial land, community colleges and other resources to reverse years of economic and population declines, according to a study commissioned by the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce that was released yesterday.

The report, compiled by the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University, did not shy away from problems that have afflicted the east side, such as poor educational achievement, low income and declining housing stock.

However, Anirban Basu, the study's lead author and former head of the institute, said there is reason for optimism. All the advantages that made the area one of the world's great industrial centers years ago are still present, he said.

"Even given the past, there is a reason to believe there can be a reversal, and that is because this community is so asset-rich," Basu said yesterday after the report's findings were released at the Essex campus of the Community College of Baltimore County.

Recommendations for the study area, which encompasses Dundalk, Essex, Middle River, Rosedale and the southeastern corner of Baltimore, echoed many economic development projects and priorities in the city and county.

Suggestions include expanding research at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center campus, emphasizing industrial development along the stretch of Route 43 under construction from White Marsh to Eastern Boulevard and establishing a cruise ship terminal in Canton.

Bayview officials who attended the presentation yesterday said they are developing a major research building on the campus.

Baltimore County's Department of Economic Development has long maintained that it will reserve land along Route 43 for job-generating development.

Other suggestions in the study include a mixed-use development at the old Fort Howard Veterans Affairs Medical Center, on 95 acres on the North Point Peninsula; continued development of the port of Baltimore; construction of a Boston Street bridge or tunnel to make it easier to cross railroad tracks near Dundalk; and using the community colleges to provide a better-trained work force.

The community colleges could be a key ingredient, Basu said.

Employers interviewed for the study routinely bemoaned the lack of qualified workers, and especially in a time of economic downturn, community colleges are the best places for people to gain the skills they need to become employable, Basu said.

"They're going to a community college to learn specific skills," Basu said.

The report follows up on a plan adopted in 1996 that called for the extension of Route 43; the extension of Kelso Drive, which led to development of the Marshfield Business Park; and demolition of the aging apartments at Riverdale and the Villages of Tall Trees to make way for single-family homes and a park. Those and other goals in the study have been achieved or are being pursued.

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. told business and government officials yesterday that this plan will get the same attention from the county. "Believe me, it will not gather dust," he said.

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