"Renaissance, to us, is like the cavalry coming in a bad way," says Tom Culotta, 59, speaking about the longtime, working-class residents of Remington. Culotta first moved to the neighborhood in 1977, and for more than 30 years, the bulk of his time has been spent as a teacher with what is now called the Community School, a one-classroom school he co-founded on West 30th Street that became a state-certified high school in July 2013. Eight students between 14 and 17, who have all struggled in the city's public school system, take the typical gamut of courses in math, science, English and more.
But Culotta doesn't even live in Remington anymore. He moved to Woodberry last year because of increasing housing prices in the neighborhood. Live Baltimore data shows that the median home price in Remington has increased from $80,000 in 2012 to $139,900 in 2013.
Culotta remembers Hampden when its 36th Street played the role of the Avenue for Woodberry, Medfield and Remington, too. He recalls the health clinic and the G. C. Murphy department store, before a wine bar and a restaurant with valet parking moved in. Gentrification, he says, "pushed those places out." He worries about the older generation in Remington, the one on a fixed income that welcomes a Walmart because it promises a cheap place to buy socks and underwear, as well as a glimmer of hope for new jobs. Last November, the Baltimore City Planning Commission voted to approve a pared-down plan for the Walmart-anchored shopping center in Remington.
So while Miller's Court, Parts and Labor and the like excite Culotta, he acknowledges with candid resignation — "There's no enemy in all of this. It just is." — that such places are for the professional set, not the working class.
"It glitters and everything, but it's just not gold for us," he says.
In this context, wariness over a five-story apartment building — where rents for one-bedroom units will begin at $1,100, says Seawall Development Corp.'s Evan Morville — sounds like the appropriate reaction.
Morville, a Seawall partner, says the company was started in 2007 "to make a social difference using real estate." That has largely meant working with groups like Teach for America to design living spaces for new city teachers that would not only make their first years in Baltimore a smooth transition, but also entice them to stick around. Miller's Court, which opened in 2009 and is where Seawall's property management office is based, followed this model.
"What we've always done is we've listened to what the community's asked," Morville says. "We have embraced the neighborhood of Remington as our neighbor. We don't view ourselves as a guest."
Opinions about Seawall's proposed development along the 2700, 2800, and 2900 blocks of Remington Avenue appear mixed. Rothschild, who is concerned about a big-box store like Walmart coming in, says that while Seawall can't please everybody, the company is "very much aware of what the community needs." Others, like Bassett-Jellema, worry about rising property values and taxes due to new development.
"If that building comes in here," she says, referring to Seawall's multi-story apartment building, "it will force people out of their homes."
"I want things to be better in my neighborhood, but I don't want to push people out. … Great things mean combining both without destroying what's already here," says Dale Mcclinton, 43, a respiratory therapist who is also in school at the University of Baltimore for a degree in health systems administration. Mcclinton, who bought her house in 2009 for under $70,000, is a resident of Remington Avenue where Seawall plans to develop.
"It seems like some people see a piece of land that they want to do something on, and then they don't see the people around them," adds Joan Floyd, president of the Remington Neighborhood Alliance civic association. There's an "unspoken protocol," she says, that new people ought to tread lightly in Remington, and listen to residents, especially long-time ones, before making bold changes.
Floyd moved into the neighborhood in 1995, and many of Remington's new businesses, Single Carrot and Seawall among them, have listened to members of the RNA at the group's meetings. Gjerde was at February's RNA meeting allaying residents' concerns about the price point for cuts of meat at his butchery. Seawall has completed a sheet of 44 questions from the RNA about its Remington Avenue project.
As for any renaissance, Floyd says Remington's "transformation will come when we get our neighborhood public school."
Uncertainties about the hard-to-define balance between development and preservation still abound. But in speaking with 20 people who live or work in Remington (and several who do both), there seems to be no question about the bond among residents. New people? "They grew on you," says Culotta. The ones who have lived in Remington for some time? "We're all friendly with each other," says Felder.
"I think this neighborhood has been very happy to see new people come in," says Floyd.
Yes, people of varying stripes will keep moving in. Butch and Eloise Thompson, a couple in their 70s, will have spent 14 years this June inside a house on Miles Avenue. They were first renters, but ended up "counting pennies," Eloise says, to be able to buy their house in 2010 from their landlord.
She likens Miles Avenue to "one big happy family," and remembers the warmer months, when her placing potted plants around her front stoop led to the whole block doing the same in flora-inspired solidarity. They both feel the change coming — it's "for the best," Butch says — but from the coziness of their modest living room on a February evening, the future, even a potentially precarious one, seems bright.
"We wouldn't want to be anywhere else," says Eloise. And Butch, smiling, simply nods.