Highlandtown to be funded for makeover

It is due $351,000 as city's 8th Main Streets locality

November 19, 2003|By Kimberly A.C. Wilson | Kimberly A.C. Wilson,SUN STAFF

Designated this week as Baltimore's eighth Main Streets community, the neighborhood of Highlandtown can look forward to an infusion of public funds and business expertise aimed at stimulating its commercial district.

The grant, announced Monday, includes $351,000 in cash and technical services over the next five years.

Highlandtown joins seven Baltimore neighborhoods named to the program over the past three years: Waverly, Hampden, Federal Hill, Belair-Edison, Pigtown/Washington Village, Pennsylvania Avenue and East Monument Street.

Since its inception in 2000, the city's Main Streets program has received $1.4 million in private and city funding that has improved the facades of 237 businesses, sparked 134 renovation projects and resulted in 170 new businesses with a total of 304 full-time employees, according to Mary Pat Fannon, its director. The program also works to forge better communication between residents and merchants, promote businesses in the area and coordinate cosmetic improvements in street-lighting and signage.

"We can't directly take credit for that, and we never promise any big fixes, but we're trying to create the atmosphere for commercial development," said Fannon.

"The idea is to stimulate the private sector, and there's nothing quite as gold as green," said Lauren Adkins, senior program associate at the National Trust for Historic Preservation's National Main Streets Center, which developed the revitalization program. More than 1,787 communities have participated in Main Streets since its inception in 1977.

Eastern Avenue, a mostly two-lane street, runs east from the Inner Harbor through Little Italy, Fells Point, Patterson Park, Highlandtown and Greektown before crossing the county line. On the stretch that passes through Highlandtown, vacant buildings, discount stores, pawnshops and mom-and-pop restaurants line the sidewalks. Through traffic is heavy. The area is abuzz with renovation, a new arts center and excitement about a regional library, set to open in two years.

In their application to the Main Streets program, Highlandtown community and business leaders said they needed help to reverse the neighborhood's "low income, low education, high crime stigma," and cash in on the area's idiosyncratic edge "without cashing out on its socioeconomic diversity."

Don Arnold, president of the Highlandtown community association, said the area has needed revitalization assistance.

"This is a great part of Baltimore," said Arnold. "I've always thought of Eastern Avenue as being sort of the linchpin between what's going on in Canton and the Fells Point area. We just want to highlight it more."

Beginning Dec. 1, the grant money will be distributed on a sliding scale until 2008 for operational and design grants. Over the next year, Highlandtown's commercial district will receive $45,000 to cover administrative costs, $25,000 in matching grants for faM-gade and sign improvement, and $2,000 for promotional activities.

Govans and Fells Point have been earmarked Main Streets "affiliates." Neither community will receive the funding Highlandtown will get, but they will receive twice-a-year consultations on strategic planning from the National Main Streets Center as well as free architectural advice, said Fannon.

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