Another twist in tale of Rosemont PAL center

CRIME SCENES

Cabinet secretary backs neighborhood group, but city's OK isn't certain

November 27, 2009|By Peter Hermann | peter.hermann@baltsun.com

It's been four months since city cops stopped running Police Athletic League Centers and locked the doors to the building that once served the children of Rosemont.

Residents of this West Baltimore neighborhood have been protesting that their kids have nowhere to play and hundreds signed petitions to reopen the building and its basketball courts. This month, an ally appeared out of nowhere - Gary D. Maynard, who runs the state's prisons, wants to partner with the people of Rosemont to keep the center open.

But even with help from a member of the governor's Cabinet, one of the leaders of the Rosemont movement, Richard A. Mosley Sr., complained that the city is stymieing their efforts.

Gone, he said, is an April deadline he had been given by the Department of Recreation and Parks to find a nonprofit willing to assume costs of renovating the building and staffing a privately run recreation center. Instead, the Housing Authority of Baltimore City now has the right of first refusal and has up to 45 days to decide whether to purchase the building.

According to an e-mail sent to Mosley by Carolyn Blakeney, the assistant deputy mayor for neighborhood and economic development, the housing authority wants to turn the building into a management office, resident council office, maintenance shop and community center.

In addition, the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation would like to use at least part of the building for a one-stop career center, according to officials speaking at last week's monthly meeting of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.

Michelle Speaks-March, spokeswoman for the city's recreation department, confirmed that housing has first dibs on the building, but she said a community center would give Rosemont what it wants. "The city is committed to having it available to the community," she said.

But Mosley, the father of Sean Mosley, the sophomore University of Maryland basketball player who grew up in Rosemont and shot his first baskets with Baltimore cops at the Police Athletic League Center, described the new proposal from housing as a curveball that spells doom for the neighborhood children.

"The city is chomping at the bit to get in and clean the place out," the elder Mosley said in a telephone interview from Maui, Hawaii, where his son was playing this week in a tournament. "If housing takes it, I know I'm not optimistic."

He said to him "community center" means senior activities, painting and adult literacy classes. "That's not a recreation center for children," he said. "We need something for the kids, plain and simple."

Mosley is still working to find a nonprofit to help but he's got the old chicken-and-egg problem. He can't submit a proposal to a nonprofit until he knows he can get the building and the city won't give away the building until it has someone committed to running and paying for the center. He also differs with the city on an estimate to renovate the building - the city says it needs $350,000 in work, which Mosley would have to pay if he takes over. Mosley said that figure is way too high.

That's when Maynard, the secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, stepped in and offered to help. At a meeting last month of the criminal justice group, he proposed sending inmates on work release to do landscaping and other work on the building.

Maynard noted that efforts to keep kids off the street also keep those kids out of prison. "We want to look at the possibility of making it functional and available for kids in the community," he told the assembled crowd of criminal justice leaders. He said his agency "would act the go-fer in trying to pull this together."

At last week's meeting before the same group, Maynard said, "We're waiting to hear from the city where it's going to go."

Maynard declined an invitation to talk about the issue this week but his spokesman said they are still awaiting word from the city.

City officials said they're waiting on word from housing.

Housing is still crunching numbers.

"My feeling is that they're trying to find a way not to give it to us," Mosley said.

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