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China Boak Terrell, CEO of the American Communities Trust, stands in one of the recently renovated buildings on the Baltimore Food Hub campus on Oliver Street.
China Boak Terrell, CEO of the American Communities Trust, stands in one of the recently renovated buildings on the Baltimore Food Hub campus on Oliver Street. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

An East Baltimore intersection was once a living billboard for urban abandonment. Junk trees grew out of fractured walls and roofs caved in. It was a dump for abandoned tires, too.

The environmental remediation cost for the corner of Wolfe and Gay streets in the Broadway East neighborhood was $3 million alone.

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But after decades of neglect, these four acres are on the way to a resounding $27 million makeover. The former Baltimore City Eastern High Service Pumping Station and its yard are being refashioned as the Baltimore Food Hub, a campus designed to bring jobs and neighborhood amenities back to this neighborhood.

“This type of project is not for the fainthearted,” said China Boak Terrell, the chief executive officer of the American Communities Trust, the charity that undertook the overhaul of one of Baltimore’s more challenging abandoned sites. “Our part is to take these old buildings and usher in traditional businesses and retail into a low-income, black and brown neighborhood.”

She also said, “I want to see banks, dry cleaners and restaurants, the same stuff I have in my own neighborhood in Bolton Hill.”

A few weeks ago, Terrell recently got the occupancy permit for her first major building, a former Department of Public Works structure at Wolfe and Oliver streets. She anticipates leasing it to a business that will bring jobs to East Baltimore.

Its new, historically certified windows overlook East Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Hospital and Amtrak and MARC trains entering and exiting Baltimore. Architects Ziger/Snead created a clean, no-partition, open look that mixes a forest of wood ceiling trusses into a traditional work space.

Terrell said she already has a signed lease for a Food Hub business, Pitango gelato, which will move to her campus as another building gets repaired. A former boiler building is scheduled to be a restaurant.

She also noted that $120 million has been invested in the surrounding Broadway East.

She praises the financial assistance the Food Hub has received — from the state Department of Housing and Community Development, the Abell Foundation and the France-Merrick Foundation.

The Food Hub joins other Gay Street corridor landmarks, including the American Brewery, the Hoen lithography plant and the Southern Baptist Church, which are all prime movers in the rebuilding of this neighborhood.

The old pumping station was once a handsome, well-designed 1891 collection of brick structures, including stables, that housed a steam engine that pumped water from the Lake Montebello reservoir throughout the city via a circuitous network of huge pipes under York Road. The water eventually reached the Guilford Reservoir, from which it was distributed to homes via pipes.

By 1928, this pump house was supplanted by newer electric pumps on Hillen Road. At some point, all of original architect’s Jackson Gott’s fancy tile roofs and dunce-cap like decorative towers got chopped off. The steam boiler chimney was destroyed, and the city’s street lighting operation moved here. It was also used to film the Cutty’s Gym scenes in “The Wire” before it became an unauthorized tire discard point.

Developer Bill Struever saw the potential of the area north of the Johns Hopkins medical campus and named it the Baltimore Food Hub. Last year the first component arrived, City Seeds, a social enterprise and food commissary created by the not-for-profit Humanim. City Seeds operates from a new building adjacent to the 1891 pump houses on the site.

Terrell said the American Communities Trust paid the city $500,000 for the property, but the city, in return, provided the same amount toward the cleanup.

“Then came the job of raising the rest,” she said.

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Also about to debut is the Last Mile Park, a linear green area created loosely along the Biddle Street rail embankment. Look for colorful lights in the LED palette in the Amtrak street underpasses here.

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