East Baltimore's rebirth

Community revitalization and job growth are happening despite the recession

November 11, 2010|By Douglas W. Nelson and Christopher Shea

Despite the troubled economy, the East Baltimore redevelopment project is making extraordinary progress and remains on track to achieve its goals.

Indeed, nearly halfway into the planned 20-year project, a new community is steadily emerging in an area of East Baltimore that had been rocked by disinvestment and urban decay. Recent developments are particularly exciting.

Earlier this month, work began on a 20-story graduate student housing project. When completed in 2012, the $60 million residential tower will bring 570 students into the heart of the redevelopment district, joining the 350 residents who already live in one of three new housing developments.

Last month, the Maryland Institute College of Art opened MICA PLACE, a new community arts-education facility in the area, which will create vibrant new arts opportunities for residents.

The East Baltimore Community School, a new neighborhood public contract school, started its second year in August with 200 elementary and middle school students in five grades. In partnership with Johns Hopkins and other area institutions, this school will bring high-quality education to current East Baltimore residents and attract new families to the area. Now in modular buildings, the school will move into its new permanent home in April 2014 and will be joined by a new early learning center.

Early next year, the state will break ground on an environmentally friendly public health laboratory that will bring 300 workers to the area and build on the critical mass of life science work occurring within the science and technology park.

And East Baltimore Development Inc. (EBDI), which is leading the project, is working with Living Cities and the Baltimore Integration Partnership to bring a new fresh food market and other retail amenities to the community and to finalize plans for a commuter rail stop.

These accomplishments build on earlier achievements: the 270,000-square-foot life sciences building that opened in 2008 and now houses 460 jobs; a new senior housing building that is home to 84 households, over half of which are from East Baltimore; two new mixed-income apartment complexes priced affordably for working families; and 40 existing homes that are being fully renovated for original homeowners and buyers moving into the neighborhood.

In 2002, EBDI adopted an economic development and inclusion strategy with a goal of dramatically increasing contracting and procurement with minority-, women- and locally-owned companies. Through May of this year, 46 percent, or $54 million, of total contracts awarded has gone to minority- and women-owned companies. Overall, minorities and women have accounted for 57 percent of the total employment hours generated by the various projects.

We are approaching the midpoint of one the most ambitious revitalization initiatives ever undertaken in Baltimore or the nation.

Along the way, there have been mistakes to learn from and mid-course adjustments to meet changing economic realities; however the original vision, core values and commitment to economic inclusion have not changed.

Most critically, the project leaders have committed to doing right by the community and the people who have called this area home. That's why EBDI, with the help of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and other partners, has made residents' voices central to the project.

Before demolishing any houses, EBDI worked with residents to develop stringent new demolition protocols to protect residents' health. We are proud that the demolition protocols developed by EBDI in concert with the community are emerging as a national model for other redevelopment.

Residents whose homes were acquired were given significant relocation assistance, restoring equity wealth among 259 homeowners and helping 53 renters to become owners. All residents have the right to return to new or refurbished housing in East Baltimore if they choose. EBDI also provided a range of services to community residents, including referrals for financial counseling, health care, education and employment. To date, more than 2,700 people from the greater East Baltimore area have been placed in jobs by EBDI.

In each of these areas, residents participated fully in defining the problems and in defining the solutions. Relocation policies, demolition policies, economic inclusion policies all were developed through broad community discussion. Thanks to this kind of community-focused effort, surveys show that the vast majority of residents are satisfied with how the project has unfolded.

The collapse of commercial and residential real estate market, combined with the credit crisis, presents a new challenge. This financial tsunami has temporarily slowed the pace of building new and rehabbed homes to attract families of all economic backgrounds into the area.

To be sure, leaders of the project had hoped that more new homes would be in place and occupied by now. But we remain optimistic that this will happen in the next few years as the economy recovers.

EBDI remains a strong partnership between the community, the city of Baltimore, the state of Maryland, the federal government and many others, including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Baltimore-based philanthropy, and the Johns Hopkins Institutions.

This unprecedented partnership has made great progress. Much more remains to be done, but the commitment to a revitalized East Baltimore and its people remains clear and unwavering.

Douglas W. Nelson is chair of the board of East Baltimore Development Inc. and the former president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Christopher Shea is president and CEO of East Baltimore Development Inc. Their e-mails are…

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