Top 5: ‘Too big to fail?’ all week

The Daily Record’s five-month investigation into the redevelopment of East Baltimore was released in 12 installments over five days this week. The stories — particularly ones from the first three days of the series — dominated web traffic on our site this week. Here are the top 5:

1. Day 1: A dream derailed – Melody Simmons and Joan Jacobson

The nation’s largest urban redevelopment, a projected $1.8 billion effort to transform 88 acres of East Baltimore into a world-class biotech park and idyllic urban community, lies derailed amid vacant lots, boarded houses and unfulfilled dreams a decade after it began.

The effort to give new life to a decaying community behind Johns Hopkins Hospital began with unbridled optimism. Then-Mayor Martin O’Malley and civic leaders promised that it would energize the economy and create thousands of permanent jobs.

2. Day 2: The muddled money trail – Joan Jacobson and Melody Simmons

East Baltimore Development Inc. has spent $6.4 million per acre since 2002 to revitalize a largely vacant chunk of inner city bounded on three sides by slum and blight.

The money has gone to buy homes, demolish buildings, relocate residents and build underground infrastructure for water, sewer, state-of-the-art fiber-optic and electrical systems.

3. Day 2: EBDI salaries, staff increased during recession – Joan Jacobson and Melody Simmons

As the nation headed into its worst recession since the Great Depression, staffing and salaries at East Baltimore Development Inc. skyrocketed between 2005 and 2009, Internal Revenue Service documents show.

The pay and benefits at the nonprofit increased by 46 percent, from $2.6 million in 2005-2006 to $5.6 million in 2008-2009, when eight employees made more than $100,000 a year. During that time the staff expanded from 43 to 72, according to Cynthia Swisher, EBDI’s chief financial officer.

4. Day 3: Seeking a new vision – Joan Jacobson and Melody Simmons

It was a glass-half-full day.

It was a time to celebrate cranes in the air — four of them — towering behind Johns Hopkins Hospital, where the stalled $1.8 billion East Baltimore redevelopment project was getting a jump start.

None of the project’s uncertainty was evident at the Sept. 10 groundbreaking for a 20-story graduate student tower with 321 apartments.

5. Day 3: Jobs come slowly in New East Baltimore – Joan Jacobson and Melody Simmons

In a desperate neighborhood like Middle East, where unemployment a decade ago was as high as 30 percent and drug dealers worked the corners, the lure of new jobs was a huge selling point in rebuilding the community.

When Baltimore began asking for federal funds in 2003 to tear down homes and relocate residents, city housing officials assured the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that part of a $21.2 million loan would lead to the creation of thousands of jobs in a biotech park just north of Johns Hopkins Hospital.

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