The Baltimore City Council will conduct a hearing Wednesday afternoon on the performance of the nonprofit East Baltimore Development Inc. as it enters a second decade redeveloping 88 acres north of Johns Hopkins Hospital.
“Transparency is what I’m looking for,” said City Councilman Carl Stokes, who is chairing the hearing. “I am looking for a vision going forward from here.”
The $1.8 billion project, the nation’s largest urban redevelopment effort, has resulted in the relocation of more than 700 households since 2001 in the neighborhood known as Middle East.
The hearing was called by Stokes last month in response to a five-part investigative series in The Daily Record that began Jan. 31. It will be held before the council’s Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee at 5 p.m. and televised live on Cable Channel 25.
The Daily Record’s stories presented the first comprehensive review of the massive redevelopment. The series showed that while $564 million has been committed to the project so far — $212.6 million of that in public funds — the project is lagging far behind its original timetable.
So far, 732 households have been relocated and 1,838 properties purchased and targeted for demolition, at a cost to taxpayers of $101 million.
While the project has also attracted large investments from nonprofit sources, including $63.5 million by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, $22 million from the Johns Hopkins University and $15 million from the Weinberg Foundation, it sits at a crossroads today.
Originally touted as “America’s new model for urban development,” the project was planned to transform a blighted section of East Baltimore into a world-class biotech park and idyllic urban community.
Ten years later, the project is stalled amid acres of wide-open spaces and vacant and blighted row houses. So far, 669 houses have been demolished and another 700 are ready to come down.
Plans for a life sciences park of 1.1 million square feet with as many as five buildings have been derailed. A 278,145-square-foot building was completed in 2008; when its latest tenant arrives in May, it will be 80 percent occupied.
EBDI officials are now focusing on plans for a state-of-the-art school in the heart of the project. They hope the school will be a catalyst for new residential and retail development.
Marketing experts hired by EBDI and master developer Forest City-New East Baltimore Partnership are surveying Hopkins employees and other city residents about future housing and commercial development at the site as part of a “rebranding” push, according to Scott Levitan, senior vice president for Forest City.
Two previous master plans have been drawn up for the EBDI project at a total cost of $1.8 million, and have since been discarded.
“I would like to hear what some Hopkins, EBDI and Annie E. Casey officials thought was happening 10 years ago and what the vision is now,” Stokes said. “How things are different and how they think they will turn out.”
Stokes said he has instructed EBDI, Hopkins and Casey officials to make a collective 20-minute presentation at the beginning of the hearing. He said officials of the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development will then testify, followed by current and former residents of the community.
Many of those residents, Stokes said, are angry about the demolition of their community and the change in the mission of the redevelopment.
“People are really disgusted,” he said, referring to the tone of a meeting he attended this week with former residents, many of whom were dismayed that only 220 housing units have been built so far at the site, most of them rental units for senior citizens and other tenants. Original plans called for more than 599 at this time.
“People who thought they would one day come back say there is nothing for which to come back to,” Stokes said.