Big plans for East Baltimore Hopkins proposes $44 million redevelopment


Picture playgrounds, manicured lawns and tranquil sidewalks. Imagine thriving small businesses, bright new homes, even more jobs.

That's what the future of economically depressed East Baltimore will look like, according to plans being drawn by Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions and other community leaders who are in the first stages of an ambitious plan to transform the area.

After nearly three years of drafting plans and obtaining federal funding, officials have begun to map the first of seven areas to be rebuilt -- the Gay Street/Middle East neighborhood. It is expected to cost $44 million to redevelop the 41-square-block area over five to seven years.

"This is probably the single biggest attempt at an overall community project since Sandtown-Winchester," said Michael V. Seipp, executive director of the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition (HEBCAC), a partnership among residents, the city and state governments and Hopkins, which is overseeing the huge redevelopment.

But plans for East Baltimore -- an estimated $100 million, 25-year renewal -- overshadow the size and scope of the Sandtown-Winchester community revitalization and demolition project in West Baltimore. HEBCAC is trying to restore a wide swath of East Baltimore -- from North Avenue to Fayette Street and from Aisquith Street to Kenwood Avenue -- encompassing about 230 square blocks and 13,000 apartments and rowhouses. At least 400 houses and as many as 1,500 will be demolished.

Community input is part of the plan. "We're willing to work with the community on what the plan looks like," said Richard A. Grossi, chief financial officer of Johns Hopkins Medicine.

The plan began to take shape in October when HEBCAC began acquiring and razing properties in the Middle East neighborhood. About 130 residential and commercial buildings have been demolished and 75 acquired for renovation. By the time the Middle East area is finished, about 250 residential properties will be renovated.

The specter of bulldozers has rattled some longtime residents, but officials say they are trying to accommodate the community.

"There's the emotional attachment to the houses, and we're very empathetic, but we're going to have to move them to rebuild that area," Seipp said. "They have to go. That's the painful part of the business that we're in."

Residents are not required to move, but if they do not sell their homes, they face the prospect of having their property condemned by the city, Seipp said.

Scores of families will have to move. Many, said Lucille Gorham, director of the Middle East Community Organization, want to be relocated in the neighborhood.

To ease the transition, owners are being offered $1,500 to $8,000

for vacant homes, while residents are negotiating prices for their houses. Officials said they are willing to offer residents moving expenses and assistance finding another home.

Plans for Middle East call for permanently closing Ashland Avenue from Broadway to Chester Street; Eager Street from Broadway to Chester Street; Rutland Avenue from Biddle Street to Ashland Avenue; McDonogh Street from Biddle Street to Ashland Avenue.

"The only reason for you to be driving through here will be if you live here," Seipp said.

Seven open spaces will be cleared in the Middle East neighborhood. With help from Morgan State University, residents will design how to use those spaces -- anything from a playground to off-street parking.

HEBCAC is also clearing land to create several industrial-commercial pockets along the Gay Street corridor from Preston Street to North Avenue. The 50,000-square-foot Diamond Press building is being renovated to lure small businesses to the area.

As part of the Middle East plan, Hopkins will build a community center and health center to replace vacant houses in an area from Madison Street to Ashland Avenue and from Chester Street to Broadway. On Ashland Avenue, Hopkins will renovate a center for men, which is aimed at getting fathers reacquainted with their children. In addition, two School of Medicine buildings are planned on Wolfe Street, which could create as many as 200 jobs ranging from senior administrators to research staff positions.

"Every time we've built a building," Grossi said, "we've added new people."

The impact of the redevelopment will extend beyond the Middle East community when officials complete planning for the other six designated areas of East Baltimore. An exact timetable for development is not set.

Pub Date: 5/07/98

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