Despite the chilly winds Saturday, people were out and about in Eager Park, eating hot dogs and chatting with neighbors as kids darted across the grass playing games. Music boomed in the background and a mobile job center parked on Eager Street kept its doors open to visitors.
The day marked the grand opening of the neighborhood park, a $14 million project several years in the making. The 5.5 acres of new green space in East Baltimore includes an amphitheater, fountain, walking paths, exercise equipment, and a soon-to-arrive playground, amidst open lawns.
Saturday's ribbon-cutting event featured city officials and leaders from Johns Hopkins along with community organizers and faith leaders, who delivered speeches from the park's amphitheater stage against the whipping winds.
"This is going to bring our communities together—the students, the old residents, the new residents," said Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. Jack Young, who grew up in the neighborhood.
Rev. Twanda Prioleau offered a prayer, recognizing the transformation of "a neighborhood that was once urban blight" and thanking "the visionaries and engineers and bricklayers and … the citizens who showed up in community meetings" to make Eager Park a reality.
Built with a mix of public and private funds, the three-block park is intended as a centerpiece for the evolving neighborhood, an 88-acre area that has seen more than $1 billion in new investment since 2004.
The park itself, designed by Mahan Rykiel Associates and Gensler Architects, is expected to serve as a community gathering place, hosting festivals, neighborhood activities, food trucks, and markets. A June 10 volunteer event run by the KaBOOM! nonprofit will build the new playground in the park's northern end, where community gardens are also expected to take root.
Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels thanked the community Saturday for "giving us the opportunity to build this neighborhood together," referring to the university's investment in both the park project and its surrounding area.
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh told attendees: "This is yours because Baltimore City is committed to you. This is yours because Johns Hopkins is committed to you."
Paul B. Rothman, dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, also spoke at the event.
The new park is just north of Johns Hopkins' East Baltimore campus, home to The Johns Hopkins Hospital and the university's schools of medicine, public health, and nursing. A new building adjacent to the park's southern end features a Starbucks Opportunity Cafe, which trains local residents, and FastForward 1812, the recently opened innovation lab for Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures.
To the park's east is a cluster of new townhouses, many of which were bought by Johns Hopkins employees through a one-day lottery system last year. They join an established neighborhood of existing residences surrounding the new park.
"Being here to see what used to be to where we are now—I'm really happy," said community member Lisa Francis, who worked for years with East Baltimore Development, Inc. on plans for the park.
In an interview after the speeches, Francis said a group she's helping to steer, Friends of Eager Park, will help organize activities and maintenance for the new green space. She said plans include a monument devoted to past community members.