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In West Baltimore, private funds bring new life to rec center

Governor's office helps West Baltimore rec center raise money for a new start

Baltimore fire dispatcher Arthur "Squeaky" Kirk wanted to see West Baltimore's Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center revitalized — so he put $30,000 of his own money into the project.

Then he reached out to Gov. Larry Hogan's office to see if businesses could help, too. Soon, the center had a new community garden, 20 computers, 15 iPads, a pingpong table, furniture and a renovated basketball court and playground, largely from private contributions. Donors also contributed $10,000 for a festival in honor of Kirk's mother, the late Del. Ruth M. Kirk.

"The help that we're getting is a blessing," Kirk said.

Hogan joined Kirk and other community residents Monday for the grand opening of the rec center, located near Lexington and Mount streets in the Franklin Square neighborhood. The Republican governor used the occasion to announce state funding for two programs designed to help Baltimore in the aftermath of April's rioting.

The governor announced $3.3 million in state funding — a $1 million increase — to provide Baltimore youths with summer job opportunities and work experience through the YouthWorks and Hire One Youth programs.

Hogan also announced $4.15 million for business recovery loans, homeownership assistance programs and targeted assistance for facade improvements for affected Baltimore businesses. The funding for both initiatives will go before the state Board of Public Works Wednesday for final approval.

"The entire country was witness to the events that shook Baltimore," Hogan told a small crowd gathered at the rec center. "The city was on fire. Homes and businesses were being burned, looted and ransacked. But in the face of that, we responded quickly and we brought calm and order to the city. ... The national media shifted its focus to other places, but our work isn't done."

Those attending the event included several Baltimore Democrats, among them state Sen. Bill Ferguson, Del. Keith Haynes, City Councilman Carl Stokes and former Mayor Sheila Dixon, who is considering a run for mayor.

Steve McAdams, Hogan's director of community initiatives, who helped organize the fundraising for the rec center, praised Dixon from the podium as an "outstanding leader."

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake did not appear at the event. Her spokesman released a statement afterward criticizing Hogan's budget decisions.

"We applaud the governor for supporting youth summer jobs, but we encourage him to remember that these young people will also need jobs when they become adults and a good education during the school year," said Kevin Harris, a spokesman for the mayor.

"Hopefully, more announcements will follow with the governor's support for the Red Line, which would create thousands of new jobs for future generations, as well as a decision to reverse devastating cuts to education that will leave Baltimore youth ill-prepared for the jobs of the future. The governor's support in those areas alone would have a positive impact several million dollars beyond what was announced today."

Hogan has questioned the Red Line's affordability and said his administration is reviewing plans to build the 14-mile line between Woodlawn and East Baltimore, in part through a tunnel beneath downtown. He said Monday he plans to make a decision on funding the Red Line by the end of the month.

Ownership of the rec center facility was transferred to the Greater Harvest Baptist Church from the city, according to the governor's office. Donors to the center include State Farm, Kaiser Permanente, Bell Nursery, the Baltimore Jewish Council, the Rocksprings Foundation and the Center for Social Change.

"My team and I are extremely proud of this combined effort between the community and the private sector," McAdams said. He praised the "financial commitment and personal sacrifice of Arthur Kirk for leading this incredible community initiative in West Baltimore."

The funding for YouthWorks comes after five Democrats sent a letter to Hogan asking the state to chip in $1 million more for the city's summer jobs program. The letter asked Hogan to use $1 million from a $20 million pot transferred from the state's rainy-day fund into a contingency fund. One purpose of the fund is to "aid in the recovery of Baltimore City."

YouthWorks, the city's five-week summer program for 14- to- 21-year olds, and its private-sector component, Hire One Youth, had about 1,000 more applicants than jobs this summer. The state money will allow the program to reach its goal of helping 8,000 young people to get summer jobs, Hogan said.

Ferguson, one of the Democrats who signed the letter, praised Hogan's decision.

"I am incredibly thrilled the governor decided to make this important investment in Baltimore's youth," he said. "The governor showed his willingness to be a partner in this work."

According to the governor's office, the funds for business recovery include $1.5 million for loans, $500,000 for facade grants, which could help an estimated 50 businesses, and $2 million for settlement expense grants and down payment assistance loans for new homeowners.

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/lukebroadwater

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