"This process, for us, was very personal, very human," said Simon Hunter, a member of CO-OP's management team.
The developers distributed eight criteria limiting the types of names that could be proposed. For example, the name had to "help marketing efforts," "allow easy communication" and have "website availability." It also could not have "unhelpful associations," meaning it had to avoid "connections to places, people or organizations with reputations that could damage or overshadow the positive associations we want to create — e.g. not Wire Park, Conflict Park, or Middle East Park."
The marketers solicited suggestions from the community, and through a website and paper "ballots," nearly 600 names were collected.
In public meetings last summer, the list was whittled down to three options: Eager Park, Heritage Park and East Baltimore Community Park. Forest City-New East Baltimore Partnership and EBDI's board of directors made the final decision.
The developers say they are not trying to stamp out the name Middle East, which will remain on official city maps. So they are using the phrase "Around Eager Park" to describe the area on marketing materials and in an exhibition center staffed with real estate professionals.
Nevertheless, there are signs that the Middle East name could one day vanish.
Rowhouses being renovated by the Verde Development Group a block from the park's future location are being called "Eager Park West." Rather than "reinvent the wheel," Verde named its development as an extension of the park to alert potential home buyers to the amenity, said Martin Richardson, Verde's CEO.
There's no arguing with the power of real estate rebranding, GWU's Leinberger said. People adapt quickly, as long as there's a product to back up the marketing.
Eager Park's product — a community with everything needed for daily living — appears to be well on its way. On an average workday, the sidewalks are busy and park benches are occupied by people eating lunch.
There is proof — in the form of the research building and new residences — of the area "evolving dramatically," said Jamal Molin, a Hopkins graduate student who was considering buying a home in the development zone. He prefers the name Eager Park — it's fresh and doesn't carry the baggage of history, he said.
"I feel that when people hear 'Middle East,' immediately they think of a dangerous, crime-infested area," Molin said. "The new Eager Park name not only has no negativity attached to the name, it also even brings more interest because of the word 'park.' "
Eager Park, in the end, may be more historically relevant to Baltimore. John Eager Howard, the namesake to many local landmarks — including John, Eager and Howard streets — was a Revolutionary War hero, governor and U.S. senator.
And though the name Eager Park is new, some residents are beginning to accept it as part of the community's future.
"If it's for the betterment of the neighborhood, then it's OK," said Tim Parrish, head of the Middle East Truth and Reconciliation Council, a group formed to monitor the redevelopment. "The name is important, but it's the people that's most important."
Charlotte Johnson, 61, who lost her home to the Middle East redevelopment and moved into one of the area's new apartment buildings, is less convinced.
"There will be a lot of … whitewashing, but it will never be forgotten," Johnson said. "It will always be Middle East at heart."
Baltimore Sun librarian Paul McCardell contributed to this article.