Cheryl Casciani has heard all the reasons why residents are fleeing the city: Poor schools, too much crime, inadequate housing.
But as executive director of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, she says people have too many misconceptions. She hopes the new Live Baltimore Marketing Center will give a more accurate picture of urban life and breathe new life into the city.
"When you talk to people, the neighborhoods that come out in a hot real estate market tend to be the same five or six neighborhoods when, in fact, there are some very high-quality places to live right now they just don't get the visibility or the attention," Casciani said.
The Live Baltimore Marketing Center, established in October as a partnership between CPHA and encore baltiMORE!, will try to heighten awareness about city neighborhoods next month through a postcard campaign, an improved Internet Web site and full-page Realtor-supported classified newspaper advertising using a distinct design pinpointing the neighborhoods.
The marketing center, which receives its primary financing from the city's Community Development Block Grant program and the Fannie Mae Foundation, hopes to halt the flow of residents from the city and to attract new ones. In 1970, more than 900,000 people lived in the city; by mid-1996, fewer than 680,000 did, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. In the past six years, the city has lost nearly 60,000 residents.
The center is doing research to identify its primary audience, the people who are on the fence about staying or who possess that "urban gene" of wanting to live in the city. The center is governed by an advisory board that ranges from city agencies to financial institutions to public relations companies.
"With Live Baltimore, there are certain short-term goals that we can set and accomplish and then there are those long-term goals," Casciani said.
'Start the momentum'
"We have to start the momentum of getting people interested in the city, people moving back here and creating that [inviting] atmosphere. You want to have an impact. This is not about smoke and mirrors."
Since the center opened, it has held a series of neighborhood marketing meetings to give residents and associations a better understanding of how to improve their streets and homes.
"One of the things that we want to be able to do is identify neighborhood people who potential homebuyers, renters can interact with. People who can give an honest perspective on living there," Casciani said. "There's not a lot of marketing [money] spent in neighborhood associations. In terms of what you hype and organize is how you can communicate what you are and what you are about."
Tracy Gosson, the project director at the center, says the program hopes to teach neighborhoods how to better sell themselves: "It helps to catch the Realtors' attention. If we can get their attention for that split-second longer, they are going to see what this neighborhood is really about instead of just being about houses."
Up to residents
Gosson, who was appointed in April, is no stranger to promoting neighborhoods. She continues to act as marketing director for ,, the Butchers Hill Community Association, one of the most active in the city, and was a primary force in coordinating the neighborhood's popular annual house tour.
She says it's up to the residents put out a message about their neighborhoods that entices real estate agents. "Everyone needs introduce themselves to each other and start a working relationship on how neighborhoods can help the Realtors and vice versa," Gosson said. "There are certainly things that neighborhoods can do that can make the Realtors' job a lot easier."
The Live Baltimore Web page (www.encorebaltimore.org) is one area that Casciani and Gosson want to enhance. The page includes not only standardized information about neighborhoods, but schools, churches and housing descriptions as well. It lists 52 neighborhoods, but hopes to attract 90.
"What you are going to get when you pull this up right now is neighborhood profile information in the words of the neighborhood people who filled it out," Casciani said.
Within the next two years, CPHA hopes the site will also become a clearinghouse for programs that help finance homes in the city. The center is forming partnerships with the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors and is looking to link its Web page with the multiple-listings service used by area agents. The site is getting approximately 1,500 hits a month, according to CPHA.
"I know all the Realtors involved in this program don't have a goal of increasing sales with this program, nor are we saying that this will stop some flight" from the city, said William Cassidy, manager of Long & Foster's Fells Point office and a board member of Live Baltimore. "I think our immediate goal is to see stronger neighborhoods, because in the long run it will help us. It's so great to work a neighborhood that is marketing itself."
And one of Gosson's goals is to help neighborhoods with weak identities.
"One of the ideas that I would like to implement is putting $H together a neighborhood mentoring program," Gosson said. "Even a neighborhood like Guilford could learn something from a more underdeveloped neighborhood in different problem areas. It's just a great way for neighborhoods to get together and see what is attainable, what is realistic and get some sense of excitement about what the possibilities are."
So how will success be measured? The center's long-term goals are:
To increase the population in at least three neighborhoods.
To increase the city's residential tax base.
To increase the city's homeownership to 55 percent. According to the city, the percentage of owner-occupied housing is currently 54.7.
And to increase the median income of city residents.
"We talked among ourselves and fought among ourselves and decided that we would start at the neighborhood level," Casciani said.
"We will get people who live here talking better about [the city], give them the tools that they need" to market their neighborhoods. "Can I promise you that 15 years from now that this would have changed the population base? Well, I hope it's going to help."
Pub Date: 5/31/98