BC&E webinar explores power and challenges of urban redevelopment
Every construction project reshapes a property. Some aim to reshape a city.
During the second installment of BC&E’s 2022 Construction Blueprint Series, speakers discussed innovative urban redevelopment projects currently underway in Baltimore, the potential of such projects to change communities, and the challenges that confront companies at the forefront of urban redevelopment.
Baltimore City Recreation and Parks (BCRP) is currently in the midst of transforming multiple public spaces to improve the quality of city life. Projects include the redevelopment of Druid Hill Park, construction of Middle Branch Fitness and Wellness Center, redevelopment of an 11-mile stretch of shoreline from Port Covington to Brooklyn, and numerous other projects on the horizon. Significant FY23 funding, including $30 million of ARPA funds, will enable BCRP to contract five pool projects, the Chick Webb Recreation Center renovation and other projects in the coming months, said Adam Boarman, BCRP Chief of Capital Development.
Meanwhile, city officials are exploring other, transformational projects.
“As I am sitting here in my office, I stare at a four-lane highway that cuts off [Druid Hill Park] from the neighborhoods. Some historic injustices and racially driven polices put this road into place,” Boarman said. For the park renovation to succeed, “the road needs to be reimagined. It needs to be brought down to human scale… It needs to establish the connection between the neighborhoods and the park.”
City officials, he added, are also looking at options to address a major gap and a missed opportunity in the region’s recreation facilities. Baltimore lacks facilities that have enough outdoor fields or indoor courts to support sports tournaments.
“Sports tourism is a billion-dollar industry. Why can’t Baltimore be set up as a hub on the I-95 corridor so we can get sports teams coming to play their tournaments in our city,” Boarman said.
Elsewhere in Baltimore, Parity is driving a different kind of transformation. Committed to “development without displacement,” the nonprofit, equitable development company is rehabilitating abandoned houses and selling those new homes at “very, very affordable rates” to low- and moderate-income earners.
“We work in West Baltimore in one of the most distressed neighborhoods with one of the highest rates of home vacancy,” said Bree Jones, Founder. “Most developers, most institutional capital look at those neighborhoods as undesirable or impossible to revitalize. Parity looks at these neighborhoods as rich in culture, rich in history, rich in assets.”
Parity’s efforts have already produced a long wait list for its homes and attracted national attention.
“I think people see this as a model to revitalize some of the most distressed communities but do it in a way that creates wealth and equity in the process,” Jones said.
Near the intersection of Greenspring Avenue and Cold Spring Lane, Choo Smith Youth Empowerment is developing a “communi-versity,” said Karyn Bullock, Senior Vice President of Operations. The project will include 240 apartments (a mix of affordable and market rate), 50 to 80 garage townhomes and a new community center that includes basketball courts, a refurbished football field and track, computer classrooms, a mock courtroom, theatre, dance studio, commercial kitchen and banquet hall. The development is also on track to attract a grocery store to an area which is currently a food desert, and possibly other retailers.
Companies and institutions involved in bold, urban redevelopment projects, however, face major challenges, ranging from difficult site conditions (such as soil conditions at the former incinerator waste site selected for the Middle Branch Fitness and Wellness Center) and negative stereotypes about neighborhoods to lack of financing and other support for women- and minority-owned companies.