East side renewal: Where is the action? East Baltimore: Ambitious plan to upgrade area around Johns Hopkins Hospital should move faster.


A PLAN TO upgrade the area between Johns Hopkins and Kennedy Krieger medical institutions and North Avenue is absolutely crucial to East Baltimore's future. The federal government recognized the need for urgency in advancing $34 million toward the renewal effort. But a year and a half later, the ambitious project is in danger of stalling.

Much painstaking groundwork has been done by the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition. Some 240 buildings have been demolished and another 115 have been acquired for rehabilitation. But a sense of momentum -- and a compelling visual image of a community turning around -- are missing.

Perhaps this will change in the next few months, when the Kennedy Krieger Institute for children with disabilities launches the rehabilitation of a group of Victorian rowhouses in the 800 block of Broadway. That adaptive reuse is the first step in a more grandiose scheme that aims to redevelop three square blocks between that corner and North Chapel Street into an institutional and community anchor.

Expansion of the Hopkins medical complex into that area north of Madison Street has been in the cards for more than two decades. Indeed, Hopkins has drawn criticism for stockpiling rowhouses there. Now many of those vacant houses are to be razed to facilitate the renewal plans.

Decrepit blocks further north are targeted for selective demolition and conversion into rehabilitated residential areas with courtyards and parking.

In the hope of avoiding conflicts, the city, the medical institutions and local community organizations have been negotiating with the remaining homeowners and absentee landlords in that renewal area. Unfortunately, the impression is that little is

happening. Condemnation by the city certainly would have been a faster way to move.

Success of the HEBCAC effort is critical for East Baltimore's economic future. So many hopes have been raised that turning back now would be crushing to the community.

Pub Date: 5/03/98

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