Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake and City Council President… (Colby Ware // Photo for the…)
The townhomes have the amenities of some of Baltimore's high-end neighborhoods - exposed brick, granite counter tops, trey ceilings and soaking tubs - but they're located in an area trying to leave its violent drug past behind.
Just a few years ago, the homes located in the Oliver neighborhood in East Baltimore were vacant hulks where drug dealers would loiter on the steps.
Then a developer stepped in and renovated 14 buildings along two blocks with environmentally friendly features. The goal: to turn around the neighborhood and restore its middle-class roots.
While the houses are selling well, the developers are still fighting the perception of an unsafe neighborhood.
The Verde Group held a block party and open house Saturday. And while the event was a way to make sales, it also gave people a glimpse of how the neighborhood has evolved. There were rap performances and vendors selling books and jewelry. A clown entertained the children.
Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake and City Council President Bernard "Jack" Young stopped by to take a look.
"It has been a challenge to get people to think past the perception of how the neighborhood used to be," said Martin Richardson, an officer with the development company. After renovating a family home in Oliver at the request of his mother, Verde Group president Lloyd A. Williams decided he could bring to the neighborhood more affordable versions of homes being built in higher priced parts of town. Prices were kept low (about $165,000) by buying construction materials in partnership with other developers.
There are still vacant homes and crime. But it is a far cry from when its reputation won it a spot on the HBO series "The Wire," which chronicles crime and drugs in Baltimore. It was also the place where the Dawson family was killed in a 2002 fire set by battling drug dealers. That killing also helped spur other development in the area.
Those who live in the neighborhood said they're glad to see the changes.
Frederick and Earnesta Jones watched the block party from the front stoop of their home in the 1400 block of Bond St. The couple have lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years and said they are feeling safer than they once did.
Others said the new houses have made them take a second look at the area.
Englen Roberts moved from Baltimore, to Danville, Va., many years ago because of crime. A part of him always missed city living, and he and his wife, Brenda, have been thinking about moving back. In town on a visit, the couple heard a radio spot about the tour and decided to stop.
"If the city keeps improving like this, I definitely will have to move back," Roberts said.