Construction has begun on a $23.1 million fitness center and adjacent turf playing field — funded partly by the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation — in South Baltimore’s Cherry Hill neighborhood.
Dubbed the “Super Rec Center," the Reedbird Park project aims to create a community anchor in the waterfront neighborhood, which runs along the Patapsco River. It complements a broader vision for Cherry Hill’s gradual transformation into a destination for hiking, recreation and public parks.
The 35,000-square-foot Middle Branch Fitness and Wellness Center will feature three pools, an indoor track, exercise equipment and a basketball gymnasium. In a statement, Reginald Moore, director of Baltimore City Recreation and Parks, referred to it as Baltimore’s first-ever regional recreational facility.
Next to it, the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation will build its 100th “youth development park," an artificial turf playing field priced at $2.25 million and sized to fit many athletic pursuits, such as lacrosse, football and soccer. More than a dozen of these parks have been built in Maryland for the purpose of providing more green spaces for kids, including several in Baltimore.
Baltimore City Recreation and Parks will run after-school sports programs on the turf field after it’s completed in 2021. The fitness center will be completed by 2022, the department said in a news release.
Outgoing Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said in a statement earlier this month that the project reflects his commitment to provide more safe spaces for Baltimore’s children to play.
“The new Middle Branch Fitness and Wellness Center will not only serve as the recreation hub for the South Baltimore communities but will also reimagine the way Baltimore City enjoys recreation as a whole,” Young said.
Future plans for the site include the eventual construction of three additional grass fields, a dog park, a fishing pier and walking trails.
Funding for this venture comes from a mix of private and public sources, including the City of Baltimore, the South Baltimore Gateway Partnership, city and state bonds, Maryland casino grants and a surtax on Horseshoe Casino’s table games for city recreation programs, according to the news release.
“This is what elected leaders from South Baltimore envisioned when bringing casino gaming to Maryland," said state Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Democrat who represents Cherry Hill, in a statement. "Beyond the thousands of jobs created, we’re targeting the economic benefits to expanding opportunities and improving health, education and quality of life for the communities that surround the casinos.”
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On Wednesday, the city’s finance board is expected to approve an additional $500,000 grant from the Maryland General Assembly to be used for the field.
Brad Rogers, executive director of the South Baltimore Gateway Partnership, said his organization seeks to make Middle Branch into the city’s “next great waterfront” with the help of the community that lives there now.
“We want to make sure the community is the beneficiary of that change, and driving that change, so they’re not just passive recipients of gentrification but making the change they want to see,” he said. “We wanted it to be world-class resources for the people in South Baltimore.”
Rogers said later stages of the development will create biking trails that run through Middle Branch and on to Annapolis as well as to West Baltimore and the existing BWI Trail. Renovations to two area schools and the Cherry Hill Town Center further illustrate the enhancements planned for the neighborhood, Rogers said.
Chase Bank will open its fourth branch in the city Wednesday at the strip mall on Cherry Hill Road, part of the New York-based bank’s commitment to providing economic opportunity to neighborhoods that historically lacked access to capital.