Lucille Gorham has watched firsthand for decades as her East Baltimore neighborhood has deteriorated since her family moved there in 1931.
The blocks around Gorham's East Chase Street house have gone from a family neighborhood with clean stoops and streets to a trash-strewn stretch of boarded-up houses inhabited by addicts and drug dealers.
Now Gorham, 72, is moving out to make way for the wrecking balls and construction cranes that will begin the transformation of her dilapidated neighborhood into new townhouses and high-tech businesses as part of a redevelopment project officially kicked off yesterday.
"We've been waiting for a long, long time for this day to happen," Gorham said.
Gorham's is one of the 304 households that will be relocated as city officials embark on the 10-year, $500 million redevelopment of a blighted 30-acre swath north of the Johns Hopkins medical complex. Yesterday, a cast of politicians joined corporate and nonprofit leaders to announce that the developer had been picked to begin the first - and largest - phase of an 80-acre, $800 million effort centered on biotech business centers.
"What we have created so far is a model for the country," Rep. Elijah E. Cummings said at the offices of East Baltimore Development Inc., the nonprofit organization set up to oversee the effort. "We cannot afford to let this fail."
The developer chosen by East Baltimore Development is a partnership of several minority firms and Forest City Enterprises, a Cleveland-based public company.
The development team is formally known as Forest City-New East Baltimore Partnership LLC. It includes local minority builders Ronald H. Lipscomb, Dean Harrison, Kenneth Banks and Brian Morris. Former City Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, Lipscomb's partner, also is involved.
The partnership was selected over two other finalists to turn the area into a mixed-use community with 1.1 million square feet of life sciences buildings and office space, 41,000 square feet of retail space, 2,300 parking spaces and new rowhouses and apartments.
A&R; Development, another well-known minority firm, will assist in the construction of 850 housing units but will not have an equity stake, officials said. The project will also include 3 acres of parks and open space.
Johns Hopkins Medicine has already agreed to occupy at least 100,000 square feet of space.
Cummings praised the cooperation of Hopkins and various foundations to assist in financing and planning the project, which has required finding new homes for residents, a sensitive undertaking.
Mayor Martin O'Malley said that "what one person calls 'urban renewal' others call 'urban removal.'" But O'Malley said the city and East Baltimore Development tried to ensure that residents were treated and compensated fairly.
Gorham, a neighborhood activist, said she plans to relocate within East Baltimore, close to her current home but out of the redevelopment area. She said she wants to remain close to her friends and family, but she also believes the biotech park will improve all of East Baltimore if it includes those who already live in the area. "There is a place for everybody," she said.
Lipscomb said the first residential developments will be under way by September. He said 160 families that are slated to be relocated have expressed interest in moving back to the East Baltimore neighborhood. He said Forest City was the perfect partner because it understood how critical it was that the project be integrated with the surrounding neighborhood.
Among the company's best-known projects are University Park at MIT in Cambridge, Mass., and Stapleton, a huge residential and commercial development in Denver. The Forest City team was chosen in part because it offered a higher price for the land - $6 million, payable in 10 guaranteed yearly installments of $600,000 each - than the other two teams, said Jack Shannon, president and chief executive of East Baltimore Development.
"They are the leaders in creating successful multiuse developments on a large scale in urban areas," said Michael Beyard, senior resident fellow at Urban Land Institute. "Their strategy is to integrate new developments into the surrounding community rather than to build a fortress."