Officials gather to watch the demolition of vacant housing in East Baltimore. (Algerina Perna/Baltimore Sun video)
East Baltimore residents remember when the Broadway East neighborhood was thriving — full of families and businesses, children and shops — before an exodus began after the riots of 1968.
On Friday, they gathered to watch state and city officials tear down properties in the 1700 block of N. Chester St., making way for what they hope will be a neighborhood that thrives again: home to renovated buildings near a new, $16 million food production campus.
"You all deserve medals for staying here in East Baltimore," community leader Eric Booker told residents as they cheered the start of the demolition. He said they had endured blight and stores that closed. "But you know what? We're still here. Now our time has come."
The demolitions are the latest in a joint state-and-city program to tear down thousands of vacant properties.
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan announced last year the state would spend $75 million on demolition over four years and provide $600 million in subsidies to encourage development in Baltimore.
"We're going to start making some real progress," Hogan said. "Baltimore City's going to be a better place when we get done."
Hogan was joined by Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, both Democrats.
"When we talk about investment, it's not just downtown. It's neighborhoods and communities," Pugh said. "We look forward to every neighborhood in the city being transformed."
Hogan and Pugh acknowledged that the demolition plan was moving more slowly than anticipated due to the state's difficulties in obtaining proper permits from the city. The governor said the plan is about 10 percent finished.
"We were kind of backed up," he said. "I know the new leadership in the city is going to make it move even faster."
The 1700 block of N. Chester St. is near East Baltimore's Southern Baptist Church and the Mary Harvin Transformation Center, an affordable senior housing development. It was rebuilt after being destroyed in a fire during the rioting that broke out in 2015 after 25-year-old Freddie Gray died from a spinal cord injury suffered while in police custody.
Church Pastor Donte L. Hickman Sr. called the demolition "another mark of progress for the community."
The demolition plan is managed by the Maryland Stadium Authority.
East Baltimore is becoming a place marked by construction activity, with new homes opening at the East Baltimore Development Inc. site near Johns Hopkins Hospital. The Baltimore Food Hub, a food production campus, is being built nearby.