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Rawlings-Blake, Young at odds over rec center plan

Mayor announces "comprehensive youth violence prevention strategy" to combat juvenile homicides.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young are at odds over the mayor’s plan to sell off four of the city’s downtown parking garages to raise up to $60 million for recreation centers.

Young said recently he will not give the mayor’s bill a hearing unless he receives assurances that the money will be used to build “super” recreation centers in east and west Baltimore.

“Until those things are resolved, we’re not moving the bill,” Young said. “I asked for two 'Super Recs' -- one on the east and one on the west.”

Young wants the centers modeled off the Boo Williams Sportsplex in Hampton, Va.

Rawlings-Blake said she’s open to discussing how to spend the money for the rec centers, but wants to do it at a public hearing.

“The bill needs a hearing,” the mayor said Wednesday. “If that is how the council president thinks we should spend the resources from the sale, then that is a conversation we should have in public.”

Rawlings-Blake proposed last year selling off four of the city’s 17 parking garages — on Eutaw, Paca, Gay and St. Paul streets — to get a quick cash infusion for rec centers. But Young noted the four garages are moneymakers and questioned whether it's wise to forgo future revenue.

Since 2012, the city has unloaded 14 of its 55 recreation centers as part of Rawlings-Blake's overhaul of city recreation programming. The mayor said the idea was to offer higher-quality programs at better, if fewer, centers. Four centers were closed, while 10 others were transferred to private organizations or the school system.

Since then, the city has pledged to embark on a campaign of renovating and building new centers.

The Rita R. Church Community Center opened in Clifton Park in 2013 in a renovated historic pavilion. Last year, the city opened a new $4.4 million rec center in Morrell Park that city officials call "state of the art." Next, the administration plans to open a new facility in Cherry Hill.

The debate over the sale of garages comes as the city is announcing plans to develop a “comprehensive youth violence prevention strategy" that includes increased programs for youth.

Rawlings-Blake said Wednesday the strategy will include “better schools, more recreational programming and summer jobs” for young people.

Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen is leading the effort after Baltimore suffered from 15 juvenile homicides in 2014, up from 10 in each of the previous two years.

Wen said she wants to treat youth violence as a “public health issue." 

“I want us to think about violence as we do the flu or the measles,” she said. “It’s spread from person to person. It causes fear. It wreaks havoc. But it’s something that can be prevented.”

Young said he hasn’t yet picked out locations where he wants the new rec centers built.

“We can have [the Baltimore Development Corporation] look for sites in east and west Baltimore. We have plenty of land,” Young said. “Not only will we be able to get more programming for our children and our seniors, we can attract major sports conventions.”

Young said his research of the Boo Williams Sportsplex shows such centers can pay for themselves.

“It would save us a lot of money and it’s self-sustaining because there’s a small fee that’s paid for different types of services,” Young said. “From talking with the citizens of Baltimore, they already pay for services in the county, which we could provide here in these rec centers. I’m hoping we can sit down and negotiate this." 




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