Demolition crews were poised to begin tearing down the Madison Park North apartments in Baltimore Friday morning, but the crowd that had gathered to celebrate the occasion wasn't cooperating.
Onlookers surged toward Gov. Larry Hogan and other speakers, jostling for a glance at the list of the first 30 neighborhood projects to receive grants through the state's Project CORE demolition program. Organizers pleaded with the people to move back.
"Move the sign," someone joked, as event staff tried to clear room so that excavators could get to work.
Hogan was in Baltimore Friday to announce nearly $16 million for 30 projects, including the redevelopment of the Madison Park North site. The money is part of $75 million the state plans to spend over four years to take down hundreds of vacant city homes and put new development or green space in their place as part of the Project CORE program.
Some of the funding goes to the Maryland Stadium Authority, which is overseeing a slow-to-start demolition program targeting large blocks of vacants. The grants announced Friday were reserved for nonprofit applicants and city agencies in a process designed to encourage plans with neighborhood support.
Many of the awards — including $2 million for the Madison Park North redevelopment — went to projects and neighborhood groups in West Baltimore, a part of the city that has been overlooked in earlier revitalization efforts. It faces some of the worst crime, poverty and vacancy rates in the city.
The grants were a sign that officials are following through on promises to help the area, said Dan Ellis, executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore. The nonprofit received $2 million toward a housing and commercial project at the former Walbrook lumberyard on North Avenue near Coppin State University.
"The state clearly is prioritizing the redevelopment of West Baltimore through the awards," he said.
The grants, selected from applications by 36 groups for 77 projects, went to 17 organizations. Many are familiar, including the city's Department of Housing and Community Development and the East Baltimore Development Corp., the nonprofit overseeing an 88-acre redevelopment north of Johns Hopkins Hospital.
West Baltimore recipients included the Upton Planning Committee, the Druid Heights Community Development Corp., and Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake.
Carol Gilbert, assistant secretary of Maryland's Department of Housing and Community Development, said she expects most of the work funded with Friday's awards to occur within the next 18 months.
Many of the winning projects — which include affordable housing, historic office conversions and a park expansion — will need to lock down additional money to actually get started.
"I want to be clear that this project will not happen overnight. It will not be easy," developer P. David Bramble of MCB Real Estate said of the firm's plans for the Madison Park North site. "We implore you for your help and for your prayers to push this thing forward."
MCB is working with MLR Partners on the Madison Park North redevelopment. The firms have the 8-acre site — home to a troubled subsidized housing complex once known as "Murder Mall" — under contract.
They are planning a $100 million development that includes a 50,000 square foot innovation center, retail — including a 25,000-square-foot supermarket — and 300 to 500 apartments. The developers said they are considering a 30,000-square-foot community health care facility next to the Madison Park North site.
Hogan said the project would serve as an anchor for improvements all along North Avenue.
"It's just going to transform this entire part of the city," Hogan said, describing this first funding round as "just the start."
Demolition is expected to cost between $2 million and $2.5 million, said Mark Renbaum of MLR Partners. The Mount Royal Community Development Corp. applied for the funding on behalf of the Madison Park North project, since private entities were barred from participating.
Those rules pushed developers to look to neighborhood groups and nonprofits as partners, empowering organizations that might otherwise be overlooked, said Roscoe Johnson III, executive director of the Druid Heights Community Development Corp., which received $825,000 in funding for two projects.
One is a plan for rental and for-sale homes on Druid Hill Avenue. The other calls for improvements at the Arch Social and Sphinx clubs.
"In the past, it would have just went to the developer," Johnson said. "This is different in a big way."