The first phrase of a long-awaited public park in Middle River will include a community center, baseball diamond and walking trails, all part of Baltimore County's efforts to revitalize waterfront communities.
The Department of Recreation and Parks will begin this week seeking design concepts for the 13,000-square-foot meeting center at the Village of Tall Trees Park, where a dilapidated and crime-ridden apartment complex once stood.
When completed, the 50-acre park will be between two new housing developments, WaterView and Hopewell Pointe. Officials hope the park will attract young homebuyers with children and persuade other long-time residents to stay.
"When you see projects coming to fruition, you realize that the word renaissance is not a stretch," said Robert Barrett, director of the Department of Recreation and Parks. "A vibrant park system and recreation is important to the attractiveness of a region."
Others, like longtime east-side activist Jackie Nickel, see more than a physical symbolism in Tall Trees.
"It's so tranquil when I pass there now, the old trees still standing, and especially when I think of the turmoil that was there in those last years of the apartments," said Nickel, board chairwoman of the Back River Neck Peninsula Community Association. "Knowing a passive place, a park, will be there gives me a good feeling."
The bidding process for the design of the community center will most likely last through the winter, and construction at the park could start next summer, said Jean Tansey, chief of capital planning and development for the parks department. The county's design concept for the park also includes an athletic field, basketball court, tot lots, picnic pavilions and a parking lot. Community leaders helped officials with the design.
Drugs and shootings
The Villages of Tall Trees, built in the 1940s to accommodate wartime workers at the Glenn L. Martin airplane plant, was demolished beginning in 2002. The complex was the scene of thousands of police calls each year, many revolving around a flourishing open-air drug market, shootings and prostitution.
The county helped more than 400 families in Tall Trees relocate, paying moving expenses, utility bills and other costs. Officials said that 21 of those former residents purchased their first home after leaving Tall Trees, while an overwhelming majority remained on the county's east side.
Once complete, Tall Trees Park will join other open spaces, including the 17-acre Chesapeake Village Park, scheduled to open next year near Martin State Airport, and the popular 500-acre environmental center at Marshy Point Nature Center in Chase.
Along the county's 175 miles of shoreline, more than $800 million in federal, county and state funds has been spent in the last decade to pump new life into an area hit hard by the loss of smokestack industries such as Bethlehem Steel Corp.
The $65 million extension of Route 43 connecting White Marsh to the county's east side could be completed next year, spawning technology business development that officials expect to create thousands of jobs.
On Holly Neck, a developer is building million-dollar mansions, and communities have been briefed about a potential waterfront destination on Dark Head Cove that would feature a hotel, boardwalk, retail shops and condominiums.
Other, smaller projects are under way in Dundalk and Essex. And Kingsley Park Apartments, another run-down complex where federal and county inspectors found hundreds of code violations, will be demolished and new housing built, with input from community groups. Kingsley Park is connected to the southeastern end of what will become Tall Trees Park.
A positive symbol of revitalization, the park stands as an important step in the area's transformation. The park will be framed by two streetscape projects costing $6 million on Eastern Boulevard and Old Eastern Avenue.