Northeast Baltimore residents had their dreams come true recently when the city gave Johns Hopkins University development rights to the vacant Eastern High School. The site, atop a hill across from Memorial Stadium, was attractive to at least two potential developers, including the Valu Food supermarket chain, which wanted to put a shopping center there. But the Hopkins proposal is far better for the neighborhood.
The Valu Food offer to turn the site into a vibrant mix of shops must have been tempting. But neighborhood residents said they already had plenty of shopping along Greenmount Avenue. Similar objections several years ago derailed a proposal to raze both Eastern High and Memorial Stadium. The stadium has found new life as home of the Canadian Football League Baltimore Stallions, and now Hopkins has an excellent plan for Eastern.
The school building sitting on 26 acres will be rehabilitated and possibly circled with as many as five smaller buildings to create a complex that eventually would contain 500,000 square feet of office and academic space. The entire project extends the Homewood campus of Hopkins to the east. It represents an investment of $40 million and would bring 1,500 employees to the area. The university has until Dec. 31 to decide whether to proceed. During that time it can assess the structural condition of the building, environmental issues and the availability of historic district tax credits to help offset the cost of the project.
Indeed, Hopkins officials in 1994 opted not to take over the property because restoring the high school was so costly. The Baltimore public school system also looked at the Eastern site as a possible training center, but couldn't afford the renovation. That the university has changed its mind is a plus for the entire city, not just nearby neighborhoods directly affected. Hopkins officials believe the completed academic complex could generate $250,000 in property taxes and contribute $200 million to the local economy each year.
Just as important, by restoring Eastern High School rather than knocking down the 56-year-old structure, Hopkins will provide a tremendous boost to the psyche of Eastern's neighbors. People who live in the Waverly, Homestead, Ednor Gardens and Lakeside neighborhoods need that lift. They need reassurance that life in the city is good, that their community is desirable.