Editor’s note: This article is part of The Sun’s City of Neighborhoods series, spotlighting Baltimore communities.
Ashley Bartlett spent many years as a renter in Baltimore City, but as the pandemic unfolded, she grew frustrated with frequent calls to her landlord to fix things. “I thought, ‘I can’t keep doing this. Just buy a house.’”
Having lived in several city neighborhoods over the years, among them, Charles Village, Mt. Vernon and Mt. Washington, she kept an open mind about the location of her first home. “I saw places that I liked, but my bank account did not,” said the 33-year-old administrative specialist.
A colleague suggested she explore Park Heights, telling her the Northwest Baltimore community was making a comeback after decades of disinvestment and decline. “I was a little hesitant, but was told, ‘Buy it now.’”
Park Heights is about 10 miles from downtown and within two miles of the Baltimore County line, according to Baltimore City’s Park Heights Master Plan, released in 2006.
Central Park Heights is bounded on the north by West Belvedere Avenue; on the south by Keyworth Avenue; on the east by Pimlico Road; and on the west by Reisterstown Road. The larger Park Heights community spreads out from the center and includes major roadways such as Park Heights Avenue, Greenspring Avenue and Wabash Avenue. It is comprised of about a dozen smaller neighborhoods.
Bartlett toured close to 50 properties, before discovering a four-bedroom duplex with three and a half baths that had been totally rehabbed. The price – just under $200,000 – was right. She and her boyfriend moved into their new home in December 2021.
“I’ve been sitting on the porch with my two beautiful dogs, drinking a glass of wine and enjoying it,” said Bartlett. “My neighbors are incredibly friendly. I’m a proud Park Heights resident.”
You might say Park Heights has a new attitude. This community of approximately 22,000 residents is experiencing a wave of new homeowners and development projects.
The renewed energy comes amid preparations for the 147th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on Saturday, May 21. Events will not only celebrate the famous middle jewel of the Triple Crown, but highlight Park Heights’ overall revitalization efforts.
“Progress is happening,” said Yolanda Jiggetts, a Park Heights native who in January 2020 became executive director of Park Heights Renaissance (PHR). The mission of the nonprofit organization involves land, economic and human development and steering the Master Plan. “We have what it takes to be a thriving, bustling community as it was many years ago.”
Its website details Park Heights’ history as a onetime “streetcar suburb” that a half-century ago boasted middle-class neighborhoods with thriving shops, restaurants, movie theaters and a branch library. Beginning in the 1960s, socio-economic and other factors helped usher in urban flight, an uptick in crime, and blight.
Residents include a melting pot of predominantly African American, Jewish and newer Russian and Caribbean-American immigrants. The median household income in 2019 for Central Park Heights was estimated at $44,000, significantly below that of the state, which in 2019 was estimated to be around $95,000, according to U.S. Census data.
Things to do
Mayor Brandon Scott, raised in Park Heights, intimately understands the community’s challenges but is optimistic about its future. “Nearly everybody in my family still lives there. My grandmother, who we lost in 2022, would tell me stories,” Scott said during a recent interview at City Hall. “They remember the tree-lined streets. There was a flower shop, a pet store, a record store. We can bring those kinds of businesses back.”
The mayor said when he speaks with local residents, feedback centers around “cleanliness,” recreation centers for youth, eradicating food deserts and razing abandoned houses.
“It’s taken years for the city to get these vacant dilapidated properties, funding and RFPs,” he said, referring to requests for proposals. Some projects will benefit from millions in federal monies under the Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). “We still have a long way to go.…but life changing things are happening.”
Park Heights already has longtime anchor institutions, ranging from LifeBridge/Sinai for health care, to churches, synagogues and mosques.
A key landmark is the historic Pimlico Race Course. The racing hub opened on Oct. 25, 1870, and is the second oldest track in the country. In 2019, The Stronach Group, owners of the Maryland Jockey Club, Pimlico and the Preakness, along with the state’s thoroughbred industry stakeholders, reached a historic agreement. They pledged to remain in Baltimore, redevelop the aging track complex and help spur development in its surrounding communities.
On May 21, the same day as the Preakness, Park Heights Renaissance is sponsoring its first annual George “Spider” Anderson Preakness Music and Arts Festival, named for the first African American jockey to win the Preakness Stakes in 1889. The festival will be held in the 4700-4800 block of Park Heights Avenue and will feature live music, arts and crafts and food trucks.
“This will be a celebration of the Preakness in a way that’s groundbreaking and we hope connects residents and local businesses like never before,” said Jiggetts, adding that 1/ST, the consumer-facing brand of The Stronach Group, which owns Pimlico Race Course, continues to “show its commitment to strengthening its reach in the community.”
Issues and development
Delegate Sandy Rosenberg, who also grew up in Park Heights, now represents the 41st District — home of the Pimlico race track. He is excited by what’s happening in terms of reinvestment for Park Heights. “There are new apartments coming for seniors, plans for a new library and more,” he said.
The list of projects is long. It includes Renaissance Row’s new affordable apartments at 4301 Park Heights Ave., which will host its grand opening on May 19. In the 2600 block of Loyola Northway, PHR has an entire block of 12 new homes under renovation that are expected to sell for $300,000 plus.
A groundbreaking is planned in late May for Woodland Gardens, an apartment complex being developed in partnership between PHR and CHAI, a longtime local housing and development nonprofit aligned with The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore.
An expansion is in the works for the Park West Medical Center on Belvedere Avenue. Not far away, the Manna Bible Baptist Church plans to renovate vacant homes, build affordable new rental units and a retail complex.
“Physical development is a sign,” said Jiggetts. “People like to touch and feel success.”
The corner of Park Heights and Woodland Avenue will be the future home of the new library that is expected to break ground in the next few years.
“Pratt Library leadership has been advocating for this project for five years because we believe the community of Park Heights deserves a state-of-the-art library,” Heidi Daniel, president and CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, said in an email. “A Park Heights library branch would be the first new library in Baltimore City in more than 15 years.”
Meanwhile, home sales are on the upswing in Park Heights.
“So far this year, there have been 86 homes purchased in the Park Heights area,” said Annie Milli, executive director of Live Baltimore, which promotes city living. “This is an increase of 12 percent over the same period last year, when there were 77 purchases.”
The average purchase price, year-to-date, is $133,074, she noted, an increase over the average in the same period last year, and a 91 percent increase over the previous three-year period.
Central Park Heights, the neighborhood where Bartlett and her beau now reside, has seen the most purchase activity, followed by nearby neighborhoods of Arlington and Park Circle. Their house, renovated by Royal Homes LLC, features a spacious, open floor plan. “The monthly mortgage is about $200 less than what we previously paid in rent,” Bartlett said.
Representatives of Park Heights include Maryland General Assembly (District 41) State Sen. Jill P. Carter and delegates Dalya Attar, D. Antonio “Tony” Bridges, and Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg, all Democrats. Baltimore City Council members include Sharon Green-Middleton, vice president of the council, who represents District 6 and is listed as a board member on the Park Heights Renaissance website. Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer represents District 5 where Pimlico Race Course is located.