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Jacques Kelly: Patience rewarded in 2017

The grand ballroom, at the Sagamore Pendry Hotel on Thames Street in Fells Point.
The grand ballroom, at the Sagamore Pendry Hotel on Thames Street in Fells Point. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

This was the year when parts of old Baltimore that had languished in tatters finally re-emerged. It was a year to look and explore and see what was happening on back streets and forgotten places. It was also a year when patience was rewarded.

Baltimore’s Broadway, north and south, changed dramatically in 2017. The broad thoroughfare that stretches from North Avenue to the harbor was given a new look. Blocks of homes in the Oliver and Broadway East communities welcomed new residents to restored homes. Other blocks that had been blighted by vacant and abandoned houses changed into fully occupied homes, with corner coffee shops and front windows filled with flower boxes.

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In August, the federal department of Housing and Urban Development took note of the work here, giving the Oliver community its highest historic preservation award.

More than a decade’s worth of demolition and rebuilding stemming from the Johns Hopkins Medical Institution’s East Baltimore Development Initiative came together as its greensward, Eager Park, made its debut in the spring. Residents began moving into homes along East Eager and Preston streets. The momentum continued to the east, at a place called Station East near the Elmer Henderson Elementary School and an old Greif Brothers clothing factory. Completely rehabbed houses are now selling in the middle-$200,000 range on blocks where there were once stretches of vacants.

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At the south end of Broadway, at Thames Street, the long-awaited rebirth of the former Recreation Pier arrived. Curious patrons swarmed into the Sagamore Pendry Hotel and its restaurants and admired its central landscaped corridor that reaches out over the harbor. Brides now have their wedding photos taken on the red-carpeted staircase that leads to a 1914 ballroom atop the Pendry’s main restaurant.

Once again, other 2017 events helped achieve neighborhood cohesion. The landscaped and replanted square at the foot of Broadway reopened, as did a new park on Point Street, the center of the new Harbor Point section of Southeast Baltimore. Harbor Point might just be the most remarkable economic revival in all of the city this year. The old Allied Signal industrial plant and a foundry had rendered this place mostly off limits to visitors for decades.

Once the environmental remediation was completed — another exercise in waiting — and the new buildings, including the Exelon tower, could rise, Harbor Point emerged as a new and vibrant offshoot of Harbor East. The well-tailored and -designed park along Point Street added a fine break to the office buildings here.

One of Baltimore’s most revered restaurants, Haussner’s, which had sat vacant for more than a decade, was demolished and replaced by the Highland Haus, an apartment complex. Residents there discovered amazing views of Patterson Park and the harbor. The replacement structure is a credit to all the effort that has been spent along Eastern Avenue in Highlandtown, where the character of a fine neighborhood shopping street has been preserved.

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Work commenced on the reworking of the Fox Building, which began its life as the Noxzema skin cream processing plant in the Jones Falls Valley. The 1920s-era building sits on an unusual site at Falls Road, Roland Avenue and Fallscliff Road. It will be rental apartments with a number of artists’ studios. The complex, just off a Jones Falls Expressway ramp, has its own swimming pool.

The harbor got a new landmark, the 414 Tower on the site of the old McCormick spice plant. Tenants started moving into Locust Point’s Anthem House.

And perhaps the longest wait of all ended this past year, when Baltimore’s bus routes at last received a needed updating. Riders had to learn new routes and adjust their commuting agendas. Some patrons complained, but I found my traveling times were cut and the reliability of bus service improved. A new transportation hub at the West Baltimore MARC train station, Franklin, Mulberry and Bentalou streets, shows that rail and rubber tires can get matched up. Baltimore’s public transit has a long way to go, but it is no longer in neutral.

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