The changing face of East Baltimore

New mixed-use neighborhood rises just north of university's medical campus

Tim Parrish regularly checks in on the progress on his new home, a renovated row house located on the 1700 block of Chase Street in East Baltimore. He drives by whenever he can to sneak a peek at the state of his kitchen and hardwood floors.

If all goes according to plan, Parrish can move in later this month with his three sons and daughter.

With a laugh, Parrish admits that everything has not gone according to script in his relocation process. He hoped to move in last year, but construction has been slower than expected. Yet the wait, he says, hasn't dampened his spirits.

"I'm extremely excited about what lies ahead, and moving into a new home," says Parrish, who grew up in the area and spent most of his adult life in the Middle East neighborhood located in the heart of East Baltimore. "I've sat and watched it grow over these past few months. It's going to be a beautiful home."

Parrish, who owns a trucking company that has been involved with the dizzying amount of construction in the area, hopes that his entire neighborhood will be equally attractive. He says he has every faith it will. The signs, he says, are all there.

After periods of sluggish growth, delays and several course changes, the redevelopment of the 88-acre, piano-shaped parcel north of the Johns Hopkins medical campus hit its stride the past year. And 2013 will see accelerated change.

In late 2011, the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics moved into a renovated police station—built in 1876—located in the center of the redevelopment area, on Ashland Avenue. In May 2012, a 20-story residential tower opened on North Wolfe Street. Called the 929, the rental-apartment facility quickly filled to 85 percent occupancy, with a majority of its tenants, by design, Johns Hopkins graduate students.

All told, nearly $300 million of construction projects were completed, or got under way, last year, most notably the highly anticipated Henderson-Hopkins School and Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Early Childhood Center. In the past two months alone, a long-awaited 10-story parking garage opened and finishing touches were being put on several new restaurants. Groundbreaking on other area projects will take place in 2013, among them a new hotel, for-sale townhouses, and a central park.

"In dollar terms, there is more construction activity under way now than there has been since the project's beginning," says Andy Frank, special adviser to JHU President Ronald J. Daniels on economic development, and the university's lead liaison to East Baltimore Development Inc., a nonprofit organization formed by the city and state in 2003 to lead the transformation of the once-blighted area.

Frank, who admits to not being a patient man, says that he feels confident that the stars have aligned to see a vision for a vibrant, revitalized East Baltimore become a reality.

The project dates back to 2000, when then Baltimore City Mayor Martin O'Malley convened area business leaders to begin reshaping an area of the city that had a 70 percent vacancy rate, high infant mortality, high crime, and a poverty rate nearly twice the average of the rest of the city.

The Johns Hopkins University and the Annie E. Casey Foundation were asked to be core investors in what is now a 20-year $1.8 billion mixed-use revitalization project that is supplemented by funds from the city, state and federal agencies, and other philanthropies and private business owners.

Ronald R. Peterson, president of The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System and executive vice president of Johns Hopkins Medicine, has worked in East Baltimore for the past 40 years and personally witnessed the area's steady decline from the 1970s to 2000.

"The area to the north of us has, historically speaking, been one of the most neglected parts of the city. We had absentee landlords, depressed and vacant properties," Peterson says. "What this project has done is present us a unique opportunity to demonstrate to the community our commitment to be good neighbors. This really is a chance for us to be thoughtful partners on the renewal of this community."

Peterson says that the project is mutually beneficial to Johns Hopkins and the community.

"The vibrancy of the surrounding area is certainly important to us as we recruit staff, faculty, and students, and for the patients and families who come to our hospital. There is no denying we have an important institutional interest in this area," he says. "But having a more livable, vibrant community is good for the residents of this area. We are eager to demonstrate to young and old alike our commitment to this project."

To make way for the project and clear an initial 31 acres, 584 families were relocated. With funds provided by the city, some chose to move permanently to other areas of the city and state; rental properties were found for others to live in while new housing was being built.

Frank, the former deputy mayor of Baltimore for economic and neighborhood development, says that the relocation efforts were a necessary but unfortunate part of a massive, ambitious effort to reclaim a portion of the city.

"There have been challenges to this project, and for good reason," he says. "People's lives were disrupted, their houses taken. I can't begin to know what that is like. But I can say that never before in the history of Baltimore City's urban renewal projects have people who have been forcibly relocated through urban renewal received this level of benefits. With funding support from Johns Hopkins and the Casey Foundation, homeowners received more than three times the value of their homes, allowing them to buy homes in better neighborhoods. EBDI provided five years of intensive family support services. This just wasn't done before."

Soon after EBDI was formed, a joint venture called the Forest City–New East Baltimore Partnership was selected, following a competitive request for proposals process, to become the for-profit master developer for the first 31 acres of the project. Forest City brought with it a portfolio of successful mixed-use, large-scale projects, including a similar-in-scale technology park in Cambridge, Mass., in association with MIT.

The anchor of the EBDI project is the Science + Technology Park at Johns Hopkins, which was created to provide state-of-the-art laboratories and office facilities to support the research requirements of private companies and research institutions.

As part of the Science + Technology Park, the John G. Rangos Sr. Building, a six-story complex on North Wolfe Street that has Johns Hopkins University as its anchor tenant, opened in 2008.

Following the opening of the Rangos Building, however, the EBDI project hit a wall that came in the form of the U.S. recession, says Curtis Adams, development manager at Forest City–New East Baltimore Partnership.

"Not many investors were coming forward around that time, and with justifiable reason," Adams says. "The cranes stopped and the pace of the project, unfortunately, was slowed."

However, with the revitalization of the economy, the cranes, bulldozers, and trucks returned.

A key factor in the project's rebirth was the need for student housing, as the sole housing facility on the East Baltimore medical campus, Reed Hall, was set to close in spring 2012.

Chris Shea, president and CEO of EBDI, says that the privately operated 929 apartment building was viewed as a solution. "The university came to us and said, 'We have an outmoded facility, and our students need a place to live close to campus,'" Shea says.

The 929 residential tower, a $60 million project, has 250 suites and 580 beds in total. While open to the public, the majority of its residents attend the Johns Hopkins schools of Medicine, Nursing, and Public Health. Shea says that the building has made an immediate impact on the area.

"From my perspective, what this does is put nearly 600 young health care professionals in the heart of the project area," he says. "It embeds a Johns Hopkins presence in the core of the project, and the fact that they are here means that Johns Hopkins is vested in this project and the success of this effort. It also puts 600 people on the street looking for groceries, recreation, and other amenities. It's part of rebuilding the market of this neighborhood that will allow this entire neighborhood to succeed, including the traditional residents of this area."

The amenities soon followed, with more in the works.

Last month, a 7-Eleven convenience store opened on the ground level of the Rangos Building (which sits adjacent to the 929 apartments); this month, two new restaurants, Teavolve and Cuban Revolution, will open there. In addition, a Walgreens will open later this year on the first floor of the new parking facility, which is located behind the 929 apartments.

Mondel Powell, an owner of Teavolve on Aliceanna Street in Harbor East, says that he chose to open a second location in the EBDI area because he saw a bright future.

"I think the prospects are very good," says Powell, a native of Philadelphia, who moved to Baltimore in 2005. "We've already seen increased foot traffic on the streets the last few months with the addition of the 500-plus graduate students in the 929 building. We also hope to have traffic coming to and from Johns Hopkins Hospital, and the thousands of visitors each day to that campus. And of course the residents who are already here. We hope to be an integral part of this revitalizing effort."

A key component of the project, according to many, is the new Elmer A. Henderson: A Johns Hopkins Partnership School.

Henderson-Hopkins, which operates under a contract with Baltimore City Public Schools, is a K-8 school currently serving 260 students in temporary facilities at 1101 N. Wolfe St. Next fall, the program will relocate to a new $42 million 90,000-square-foot facility on a seven-acre campus within the East Baltimore Development Inc. redevelopment area.

Henderson-Hopkins will share that site with the $10 million 28,000-square-foot Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Early Childhood Center. Priority enrollment will be given to children whose families live within the East Baltimore Development Inc. redevelopment district and those who work in the institutions and businesses nearby.

The first new school in East Baltimore in more than 25 years, the Henderson-Hopkins School, and the early childhood center, will be operated by the Johns Hopkins School of Education working in partnership with Morgan State University's School of Education and Urban Studies.

David Andrews, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Education, says that not only will the school serve current residents but will be a draw for others who wish to make this area their home.

"We want to be of the community in a way that we can serve the children here in the best possible way, and use this school as an anchor for the redevelopment of the entire community," Andrews says. "We want to help build a mixed-income community, and for people who live and work here, to make this a great place to live and raise children."

Andrews calls Henderson-Hopkins the School of Education's emerging "hospital."

"Imagine the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine without a hospital, a place where they train students, conduct research, do evaluations, and develop new programs," he says. "Same thing goes for us in education. What we learn here through this new school will transform education practices throughout the city, Maryland, and across the country. As a world-class university, our responsibility is broader than just East Baltimore, but it has to start at home."

Andrews has put his bed where his mouth is. He moved to the EBDI area in spring 2012. He personally oversaw the renovation of his new home, which combines two adjacent row houses.

He says it's been a wonderful experience and great adventure. He loves his new neighbors, he says, and his dog Lola, a Weimaraner, has taken quickly to walking the city streets and meeting the area children.

"My wife and I chose to live here because it's a neighborhood that is redeveloping very quickly, and we wanted to be close to the action," he says. "We also wanted to get a deeper understanding of the neighborhood and the place where we are trying to make a big impact in education. My wife and I have two adult children that are off doing their own thing, and it was a great adventure for us to try to be part of something new, rebuilding a community."

From his front door, Andrews can see the large crane that is helping to build the new Maryland Public Health Laboratory, a $171 million six-story facility that is set for completion in June 2014.

A few blocks east of the Maryland Public Health Laboratory will be the site of the Gateway Project, which includes a 182-room extended-stay hotel with a retail component, restaurants, and fitness center.

The hotel will sit at one end of a new six-acre, three-block linear green space called Eager Park that will feature seasonally programmed activities, including a farmers market and live music. The park will have three core components: the Grove, the Lawn, and the Performance Spot. The Grove will be home to a fitness-oriented exercise circuit and the community's farmers market. The Lawn, a 150-foot-wide green field, will be the site of daily yoga classes and recreational play. The Performance Spot, located at the southern end of the park, at Ashland Avenue, will host outdoor performance activities and a flexible stage arrangement.

Frank says that the park is part of the overall plan to make this an amenity-rich, vibrant, and exciting area.

"When this is all done, you'll have the new school, a park, a fitness center, a grocery store, public transportation, and regular service by the free Charm City Circulator," he says.

Frank says that the concept behind the park arose out of a concern that the area did not produce an "exciting vision" and outcome that all the stakeholders wanted. So Forest City and EBDI hired Sasaki Associates, an international design firm, to come up with a new master plan, which was organized around the central park, with high-density buildings and market-rate and mixed-income homes and rental units surrounding it.

Starting in 2013, construction will begin on 40 new row homes, in addition to the renovation of 25 existing houses and the addition of 186 new rental units.

EBDI's Shea says that the long-term plan is to repopulate the area and create a safe destination with heavy daily foot traffic.

"We are already seeing more foot traffic. Objectively, this is one of the safest places in Baltimore. We've had an 87 percent reduction in violent crime since 2002," he says. "There was a time nobody would park around here. Now you have people fighting for parking all hours of the day. That tells me that people view this as a safe place where they can leave their car for eight hours and walk around even after dark."

Eric Dein, a second-year medical student at Johns Hopkins and a 929 building resident, says that he enjoys being able to walk to campus and is excited about the retail opening this year.

Ethel Burris, a 77-year-old lifelong East Baltimore resident who recently moved into her new house on the 1700 block of Chase Street, says that while she laments the neighborhood's loss of longtime residents who raised generations of children here, she has come around to embracing the future of the area.

"I loved it the way it used to be when I was growing up here, with the streetcars, families, and a horse stable that the neighborhood kids used to play around. I'm old-fashioned that way," she says. "But it's going to be a nice neighborhood again, I think. There will be that park area for kids to play in, which will be nice. I wish I had that when I was raising my kids."

Frank says he envisions a time when the EBDI boundaries disappear, creating a neighborhood seamlessly integrated into surrounding ones in East Baltimore.

Andrews says he's proud to be part of something so transformational.

"What makes this project so special is the combination of creative, talented, and dedicated people coming together and developing something from the ground up," he says. "There is a rare opportunity here to repopulate an area of the city that has been basically abandoned for quite some time. There is still quite a bit of property that is unoccupied, but as [the area] grows, it's growing back with a much more diverse set of people: socially, economically, and racially. People coming together with a commitment to make this a great place to live."

To date, Johns Hopkins has invested more than $30 million in the project, which it views as essential to the future of East Baltimore. President Daniels, who sits on the board of directors of EBDI, says that Johns Hopkins is deeply involved and committed to all aspects of this significant undertaking.

Asked to speak in the Carey Business School's Leaders + Legends lecture series, Daniels chose to talk about the university's relationship to Baltimore by focusing on the Henderson-Hopkins School.

"Steering a large organization entails not only helping to develop and concretize institutional priorities but determining the order through which you can accomplish them," he said. "In an environment where human and financial resources are strained, choices such as these are unavoidable.

"And it was in this context that we elevated the school as a core priority for EBDI—as well as for the university," he said. "We did so because the school stands as a poignant, vivid, and galvanizing place for us to demonstrate our core belief in the community and its future. It builds on our passion for the transformative impact that education can have on the lives of our fellow citizenry."