The two-year-old Waverly Merchants Association is disbanding, due to rising crime and indifference by police and merchants, co-founder and president Casey Jenkins said in an e-mail blast to business owners and community leaders Nov. 10.
In an interview, a frustrated Jenkins said he is also considering moving his acclaimed restaurant on Greenmount Avenue, Darker Than Blue, for many of the same reasons. He cited a recent murder at the same carryout restaurant where there was a killing last year. He also criticized the Baltimore City government and the Charles Village Community Benefit District, a special taxing district, of which his association is a member, for not supporting the business community
"Effective Nov. 21, 2011, the Waverly Merchants Association will no longer continue to exist," Jenkins told e-mail recipients, including Northern District police commander Major Sabrina Tapp-Harper, City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, and the city's economic development arm, the quasi-public Baltimore Development Corp.
"It has been my pleasure to assist in what little growth the area has seen over the last five years, but due to the increase in violence, and lack of interest from police and merchants alike. I feel it would be prudent to place my resources elsewhere," Jenkins wrote."Personally, I will continue to support each community organization, and its effort to revitalize this area with more meticulous and focused projects, as I focus more on Darker than Blue's move into the (Washington) market, and it's continued catering growth."
Jenkins told the Messenger he doesn't want to move his five-year-old restaurant at 3034 Greenmount, and that he feels "fully invested" in the Waverly community, having gotten married at St. John's Church across the street and purchased a house in nearby Ednor Gardens-Lakeside.
But he said, "I am considering looking at other options" for the restaurant. "I am considering leaving this area."
He said he wants to open a second restaurant, this time in Washington on New Hampshire Avenue, but is also looking for places in Baltimore to move the Waverly restaurant when his lease expires in 18 months..
Jenkins, a former U.S. Marine and award-winning chef specializing in Southern cooking, has tried to spark a resurgence of Greenmount Avenue, the main commercial corridor in Waverly. His restaurant has been named best Southern-cooking restaurant by City Paper, and one of the 100 best things to do in the city by the Baltimore Sun.
Jenkins said he and six other merchants started the merchants association because "we all wanted to see this area grow."
But he said most of the merchants have lost interest, telling him, "Nothing's going to change," and that he and Ben Blackwell, owner of Blackwell's Barbershop, were the only two merchants left who wanted to keep the association going.
Jenkins said he is starting to feel the same way. He said police are not putting foot patrols on Greenmount Avenue, and that several security cameras that Waverly merchants paid for as members of the taxing district are broken. A city worker who used to sweep the street has been reassigned, he said.
And he said the city and the benefits district seems more interested in focusing on Charles Village and Remington, where the 25th Street Station shopping center is planned, than they are in helping Waverly, despite the fact that the Waverly Merchants Association is represented on the taxing district's board.
"We are a major business district in the city and we get no help," he said. "The community has supported us, but this city's efforts on growth in this area have been very, very slow. This is why we can't get more businesses like Darker Than Blue to move here."
As for the benefits district, "We need to opt out," he said.
Clarke said she thinks Jenkins is "overwhelmed" by trying to run his restaurant and the association. But when asked if she thinks the city and police are doing enough to help Waverly, she said, "I think everyone is pulling their weight"
Clarke said police patrol on Greenmount 24 hours a day.
"Yes, maybe they should get out of their cars and walk more," he said. "But they're still there."
She also said she thinks the reassignment of the street sweeper frustrated Jenkins She said she asked city Solid Waste officials to let the street sweeper stay in Waverly, but that she was rebuffed.
Tapp-Harper could not be reached for comment.
Jeffrey Millard, president of the board of the benefits district, said Waverly and Greenmount Avenue are getting as much attention proportionally as Charles Village and Remington are, and that the city's denial of a tax increase for the benefits district has caused layoffs and cuts in services for everyone equally
Millard also said the benefits district had always considered the Waverly Merchants Association as not being registered with the state until a meeting earlier this month, when Jenkins presented documentation that the association was registered with the state.
Millard said the association has the right to have two voting members on the benefits district board, but that in order to qualify as voting members, the two people chosen must live in the benefits district and pay the special taxes, must own property in the district, or must officially represent their landlord.
As of the meeting earlier this month, the Waverly association had not produced two people who met those qualifications. And now that the association is defunct, the board must find two new voting members who do meet the criteria, Millard said.
If two such members can be found from Waverly, "we'd be happy to have them come," Millard said.
Thank you in advance for the opportunity to serve you, and the Wavery community good luck and GOD Bless