Officials gathered Monday to celebrate the opening of the next office building at the East Baltimore biopark near Johns Hopkins Hospital, hailing it as a sign of growing momentum in a larger redevelopment that has been in the works for more than 15 years.
The roughly $65 million project at 1812 Ashland Ave. is part of a master plan being overseen by East Baltimore Development Inc., a nonprofit established by the city and state, as well as private stakeholders, to guide redevelopment of 88 acres close to the Hopkins campus.
Though slow to start, redevelopment in the EBDI footprint has started to ramp up, with work underway on residences, a park and hotel. Construction of the roughly 163,000-square-foot office and lab building, where the Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Hospital system affiliates are the primary tenants, started last year.
"We're delivering on the promises in East Baltimore," said Scott Levitan, a senior vice president at Forest City New East Baltimore Partnership, the master developer for the site. "In just six months, you'll see a dramatic change."
The new park, branded as Eager Park, is expected to open this spring.
EBDI has resulted in over $200 million worth of construction contracts awarded for projects that also include a Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene building, housing for students and others, the Henderson-Hopkins School, a parking garage and offices, said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
Noise from nearby construction sites occasionally drowned out speakers at Monday's dedication, who alluded to the fights over the pace of the project, difficulties securing financing and concerns about displacement of an African-American neighborhood for one of the city's wealthiest and most prestigious institutions.
About 740 families in the area were relocated to make way for the redevelopment, which has received millions of dollars of public support in such forms as bonds, tax credits and grants.
"A lot of smiles up here and there should be … but getting things done with this group is a lot like sausage-making," said Thurman W. Zollicoffer Jr., who chairs the EBDI board.
The 1812 Ashland Ave. building was financed with about $33 million in federal new-markets tax credits, Levitan said. The state also contributed a $5 million low-interest loan and a $5 million grant for infrastructure associated with the project, he said.
The building, which also will house a Starbucks expected to open in February, is about 75 percent leased, Levitan said.
People started to move in this summer, but officials held off on marking the opening in order to coordinate schedules, Levitan said. They also wanted to provide a thank-you to Rawlings-Blake, whose administration has provided critical support, he added.
Forest City New East Baltimore Partnership is largely backed by Forest City Realty Trust, an Ohio-based real estate investment trust with about $8.6 billion worth of assets around the country.