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East Baltimore developers break ground on final, largest phase of Towns at Eager Park project

Baltimore officials broke ground Friday on the last and largest phase of a new townhome community in East Baltimore, complementing a broader vision for the area around the Johns Hopkins medical campus that has been progressing for about two decades.

Work will start on a total of 64 new townhomes, 48 of them to be sold at market-rate in the $300,000-range and 16 of them “affordable,” or meant for those who make a certain percentage below the area median income. This is the third phase of the Towns at Eager Park project, and is expected to be delivered in 2024.

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It’s part of the redevelopment of some 88 acres in the city’s Middle East neighborhood, near Johns Hopkins Hospital, by East Baltimore Development Inc., a nonprofit, public-private partnership that includes Hopkins. The overall EBDI project aims to create 2,100 units of for-sale and rental housing at a range of prices. It’s targeted for Hopkins students, staff and faculty members, as well as former and current residents of the area.

Hundreds of families were displaced for the larger redevelopment, and they were promised there would be a path back to the neighborhood once construction was completed. But only a fraction of legacy residents have indicated they’ll return in surveys, and it remains uncertain how many more will opt to relocate again.

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“We want folks to come back,” Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said during Friday’s groundbreaking event. “This project is about reversing years of inequality and redlining that happened right here on this very ground, and instead creating high-quality, market-rate and affordable housing that will help reinvigorate our city and East Baltimore while improving the quality of life of our residents.”

Baltimore officials toss sand during a ceremonial ground breaking on a new townhome community in East Baltimore near the Johns Hopkins medical campus.
Baltimore officials toss sand during a ceremonial ground breaking on a new townhome community in East Baltimore near the Johns Hopkins medical campus. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

The project is one of several ongoing rehabilitation efforts taking shape within the city that officials promise will reinvigorate blighted land into a mixed-income community with affordable housing options. Like other ventures, it has been hailed as both transformative by city officials and developers, as well as problematic by housing advocates and others who are concerned about the dislocation of longtime residents either because their homes are taken or they are priced out.

Leading the revitalization effort, EBDI has countered that many of the area’s dwellings were vacant, and the residents who did remain were relieved to move away from a neighborhood in distress. About a third of the new housing units will be made “affordable” to rent or buy, according to EBDI officials, and aid has been offered to those who were relocated.

Speakers at Friday’s event said they hoped the development project would spark further investment in the area. In particular, they highlighted the need for a grocery store.

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“This neighborhood is becoming a destination of choice to work, to shop, to study, send your children to school and most importantly create a home for yourself and others,” said Cheryl Washington, EBDI’s president and CEO. “This project brings residents and density to our neighborhood, which in turn creates opportunities for relocated residents to return ... and it proves that there’s a thriving housing market in East Baltimore.”

Plans for the project, stalled for years in unstable and uncertain economies, include food stores, more than one million square feet of life sciences research and office space, a community learning campus and early childhood center, green spaces and a park, according to the developers.

Scott said those who continue to dwell on the development’s slow timeline and delays should note that hundreds of units already have been completed, with several hundred more on the way.

“EBDI, Eager Park, East Baltimore have risen again,” he said. “For every story that we hear about vacancy and blight in Baltimore, and about the slow churn of progress, this is what that equitable progress looks like.”

Hopkins is a partner in the growth, too, offering “live near your work” grants and helping fund the nearby Henderson-Hopkins Elementary/Middle School, which is operated and partially funded by the university’s School of Education. The institution also offered land for apartments, university officials said previously.

Ronald J. Daniels, president of the Johns Hopkins University, said the institution is committed to sparking more growth in East Baltimore and in the city.

“Today’s groundbreaking ... represents the chance for Baltimore families to achieve the dream of homeownership, the dream that has often been out of reach for people and families, especially communities of color,” Daniels said. “We’re delighted to support that aim and especially to know that our employees are buying homes and building lives in the same communities they serve.”

Construction on the Towns at Eager Park project began in 2016, yielding 49 new townhomes in the first phase and 34 for-sale units in 2020. EBDI has completed 477 housing units with about 950 more on the way, officials said in a news release Friday, a majority of which will be made affordable.

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