Patterson Park community organization's founder wants to `make good things happen' elsewhere

Rutkowski moving on

October 26, 2007|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,Sun Reporter

When Ed Rutkowski and his wife moved to the Patterson Park area on the city's east side in 1986, it was the sort of place, he said, where everything was in good shape and neighbors pitched in to keep it that way.

But over the next decade, the region slid headfirst into decline. Drug dealers set up shop in its 140-acre park. Prostitutes worked the corners, and Rutkowski's neighbors - the same ones he saw at community Christmas parties - abandoned Baltimore in droves.

Rutkowski, however, got to work. He founded the Patterson Park Community Development Corp., which many now credit for the area's healthy turnaround. And now, after 11 years at its helm, Rutkowski is moving on.

Yesterday, he announced plans to step down from his executive director position at the Patterson Park group to start a new organization focused on revamping other, as-yet unspecified, parts of Baltimore. His work will initially be funded through a grant from the city's philanthropic Goldseker Foundation.

"I would have been happy to stay here forever in some sense," Rutkowski, 60, said yesterday. "But every once in a while, you need to refresh and renew, and this is just a tremendous opportunity to take what I've learned, presumably, and make good things happen, to continue."

The Community Development Corp., and the other organizations it helped foster, turned Patterson Park from an ailing community in 1996 into one of the city's hot spots. It bought up more than 500 properties to prevent slumlords from getting them, rehabbed vacant houses and developed more than 170 rental homes for low-income residents.

It also brought people together and gave them something to do, through revitalization programs and recreational ventures, right down to aquatic ballet.

"[Ed] had the forethought and the passion for the community to realize that community development wasn't only just bricks and mortar and fixing up abandoned houses. ... He realized that community development was also providing services to those same people now moving into the area," said Tim Almaguer, executive director of the Friends of Patterson Park.

Almaguer's organization works to maintain the neighborhood's now-thriving park, sponsoring activities throughout the year, such as summer concerts and tomorrow's Great Halloween Lantern Parade. That festival began with an attendance of about 50 nearly eight years ago and is expected to draw 5,000 people this year, something Almaguer said wouldn't have been possible without Rutkowski.

"He provided [us] an events coordinator to do interesting, out-of-the-box events that drew people to this community who ultimately stayed living in this community," Almaguer said.

"He's why the park and the community has turned around. ... I have full faith that he's still going to do some amazing stuff."

About a year ago, Rutkowski considered moving the Community Development Corp. to other parts of the city or splitting its focus, realizing he'd accomplished most of his goals. But he, and his board of directors, ultimately decided that wouldn't be good for Patterson Park or the development corporation.

After a meeting yesterday morning, the board approved Rutkowski's plan to branch off into a new venture, though he will remain a CDC board member and consultant.

Mark Tough, the community group's chief operating officer, will become the acting executive director once Rutkowski leaves Jan. 1.

"Ed was the founder of the organization. Ed is widely known and respected throughout the community and even nationally; the organization has received national coverage for its efforts. Ed grew up in East Baltimore. For all of those reasons, no one can really fill Ed's shoes," Tough said yesterday.

"At the same time, we've been working on the process of the executive transition for six months," Tough said, "and we've got ourselves to a point where we can manage to continue doing the work that needs to get done."

As the community's needs have changed, so has the CDC's role. Last year, it had about 25 employees, which has dwindled to a dozen since the architecture team spun off into a separate company. It has become less of a gut-and-rehab organization, as it was a decade ago, and more of a marketing machine.

Tough said the group is encouraging commercial development and focusing on regional marketing efforts, along with programs to bolster safety and cleanliness throughout the Patterson Park area.

"It's more evolutionary than revolutionary in terms of what the organization is doing," Tough said. "It's not a matter of Ed leaving and us revamping our mission and so on. We're continuing to do what was already set in motion by Ed."

Rutkowski, for his part, is still working out the details of his new venture, talking with various communities in the city to find the best fit for his skills. He knows his organization will likely be a nonprofit of some kind and primarily a development company. He also knows he's likely to draw staff from the Community Development Corp.

"I think it's highly likely, but one step at a time. This is the first one," said Rutkowski, who moved to Canton in 1998.

The Goldseker Foundation has pledged to help him move forward, while continuing to support the community organization, which has received about $850,000 from the foundation in the past nine years. Dollar amounts are still being negotiated, said Goldseker's President, Timothy D. Armbruster.

"Ed has developed a level of expertise that both he and some members of his board and some of his funders thought could be put to really good, effective use in other neighborhoods around the city," Armbruster said.

"He has a remarkable level of commitment. What we're hoping to do is to help him take his commitment to Baltimore citywide."

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