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Private investors step up with a $6 million (plus) gift to East Baltimore’s Johnston Square

Regina Hammond, left, executive director of ReBUILD Johnston Square Neighborhood, and Janet Harvey, an investor, are working to rebuild the neglected neighborhood.
Regina Hammond, left, executive director of ReBUILD Johnston Square Neighborhood, and Janet Harvey, an investor, are working to rebuild the neglected neighborhood. (Barbara Haddock Taylor)

A group of concerned Baltimore citizens with a desire to help the city’s neighborhoods has stepped forward in a big way, a $6 million way, maybe even $10 million. It’s going to East Baltimore, specifically Johnston Square and the surrounding blocks south and east of Green Mount Cemetery.

“The way to rebuild Baltimore is one neighborhood at a time,” said Janet Harvey, one of the donor-investors. “This effort is all community-led and it’s very grounded.”

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She added: “It’s not about us. It’s about years of disinvestment in this neighborhood. "

Harvey said she was attracted to Johnston Square after hearing how former Rouse Company President Tony Deering donated and raised $10 million to invest in the effort to rebuild East Baltimore’s Oliver and nearby neighborhoods. Now it’s Johnston Square’s turn, she said.

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Seeing is believing, Harvey said, as she pointed to a new apartment building that is being completed at Greenmount Avenue and East Chase Street. It is the first major redevelopment in the $160 million Rebuilding Johnston Square Initiative, one that will make sure that current residents can thrive where they have lived for decades.

“Some of our money went into this,” Harvey said.

Her husband, Dixon Harvey, has historic ties to the community, she said. At one time the Harvey family had a machine shop on East Preston Street in Johnston Square.

Janet Harvey is a parishioner of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in North Baltimore and the chair of the Together ReBUILDING Stewardship Committee, a 10-member group that has raised $6 million for Johnston Square. They see themselves raising another $4 million. They give to a mission-based investment pool that also includes $300,000 from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore

This is a neighborhood south of the well-known Green Mount Cemetery where philanthropists Johns Hopkins and Enoch Pratt are buried. Once referred to as the Tenth Ward, it was an Irish immigrant neighborhood. Today it’s the home of the sports powerhouse St. Frances Academy, a park named for Henrietta Lacks and a swimming pool that commemorates political dynamo Ambrose Kennedy.

Regina Hammond, director of the ReBUILD Johnston Square Neighborhood Organization, has lived in the neighborhood for decades. Her home is built on the site of the former Little Sisters of the Poor convent and home for the elderly.

“The neighborhood started going down instead of going up,” said Hammond, a former legal assistant at the Miles & Stockbridge and Gallagher Evelious & Jones law firms. “We are looking for increased recreation, better housing, employment and just feeling safe in the neighborhood.”

Her group has donated more than 10,000 hours of labor to start the effort. Hammond is proud of the nicely renovated park along Harford Avenue named for Henrietta Lacks. Her group won a National Recreation and Park Association competition to complete this green space.

“It’s a very nice space and groups are holding events here,” Hammond said. “We maintain the park with our neighborhood green team, the city and the Sixth Branch, a military retirees organization.”

She said she works closely with the Mount Sinai Baptist Church, the Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development organization and her City Council representative, Robert Stokes.

“I found the project in Johnston Square was perfect for what I was looking for,” said David Clapp, another donor-investor. “It had community buy-in and involvement; it had a plan that made a lot of sense and would make a great impact; it was a plan to build on the strengths of the neighborhood.”

Clapp has hopes for a better future in Johnston Square

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“I see the way Johnston Square looks now and I imagine the way it will look 10 years from now, and years after,” he said.

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