Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Residents rebuke EBDI developer

Saying they were excluded from the process, angry residents of Middle East shut down a presentation Thursday by the developer of the 88-acre redevelopment as he attempted to detail a series of recommendations for the future of the stalled $1.8 billion project.

Scott Levitan, senior vice president of the Forest City-New East Baltimore Development Partnership, was forced to halt the meeting after nearly an hour of protest over issues such as the renaming of the community and the process that Levitan employed to map the latest shift in the overall development.

“You got to let us be heard,” said Kia-Michelle Massey, a resident of Middle East, who told Levitan there was little trust between the residents and East Baltimore Development Inc., the redevelopment nonprofit formed in 2001 which has since partnered with Forest City, Johns Hopkins University and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

“We don’t feel like at this point you have an interest in what we have to say.”

The new mission of EBDI includes adding retail and office space, a hotel, a new public school and upscale housing to the site originally intended to hold a world-class biotech park linked to the Johns Hopkins Hospital. After more than 1,300 households were relocated and about 600 demolished, the project stalled.

Thursday evening, some of the remaining Middle East residents complained that they were not included in the latest planning effort.

Vocal residents also took issue with the prospect of being priced out of any new housing market that may be built at the EBDI site and a plan to rename the Middle East community “Beacon Park.”

The Beacon Park name was listed on the slide presentation Levitan attempted to unveil.

“We want to market and identify and brand that development,” Levitan said.

Reginald Fitzgerald, a Middle East resident, protested renaming the community by saying, “That name change is full of crap. We are the low guy on the totem pole — we gonna get what they give us.”

Another added: “You are taking a colonialist attitude to fix what’s not broken.”

Seeking the survey

Levitan called the meeting to unveil a list of recommendations made after a survey and study of the project by Carton Donofrio Partners, a Baltimore-based marketing firm.

He refused to make a copy of the recommendations available to The Daily Record and did not distribute any copies of the survey or the findings to the nearly 75 residents who attended Thursday night’s meeting at EBDI’s offices in the 1700 block of East Chase Street.

“We are tired of being talked to,” said Phyllis A. Hubbard, one of the residents. “We need to be listened to.”

Levitan agreed to suspend the meeting until Aug. 11 — and agreed to make copies of the survey and the recommendations public before that date.

He told the group: “This is a summary; there is a lot more content here. I am sorry people don’t want to engage in conversation” tonight.

Lawrence Brown, a post-doctoral fellow at Morgan State University studying health disparities, pushed Levitan to release the documents.

“Are you saying the residents are not capable of reading the recommendations?” Brown asked. “There’s disappointment in this room. Hopkins and EBDI have focused from the top down. I think we need to re-engage the residents.”

Last year, EBDI and Forest City said the study was commissioned to create a plan to market Middle East to middle-class families and commercial developers, using “psychographics and additional market research” to transform an urban neighborhood pockmarked by blight and crime into an upscale area.

The project, the nation’s largest urban renewal project, is located just north of Johns Hopkins Hospital. A five-month investigation by The Daily Record this year found the project has cost $564 million so far — $212.6 million in public funds.

Now a decade old, plans to develop the site into a world-class biotech research park and add up to 900 new housing units have stalled, even as more than 1,300 households have been relocated from the community and 31 acres containing rowhouses, churches and businesses have been razed.

Another 57 acres of vacant and blighted rowhouses await demolition.

Safety, cost concerns

As The Daily Record has reported, the survey was sent by email in February to Hopkins employees by Andrew B. Frank, special assistant to Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels on economic development initiatives.

On Thursday, Levitan said most of the participants were sought from the Hopkins medical campus and “other areas in Baltimore.”

Their major concern over living in Middle East, Levitan said before the meeting was halted, was personal safety.

“Perception of safety is the No. 1 barrier,” the presentation said, adding that 69 percent of respondents surveyed “rejected the location, listing “risk/safety” as the reason.”

Plans to build upscale housing costing more than $190,000 per unit also drew ire Thursday night.

“The question is, ‘Can you afford it?’” Fitzgerald, a self-employed hauler and contractor, asked the room.

“Can you afford to shop in the stores that they want to build here? The new houses that brings in folks that make at least $60,000 per year. It’s going to hurt you. This is what we need to be thinking of. You been here all your life. This is your neighborhood. They getting rich off of you.”

Levitan tried to soothe the fears and protests by pledging to work with the residents. He said Daniels, Hopkins’ president, was committed to working with the remaining residents.

“Johns Hopkins can help this community achieve what it wants,” Levitan said. “Or we can fight [Daniels] for the next 10 years that he’s president of Hopkins and I swear we’ll all be sitting in this same room 10 years from now.”

6 comments

  1. I’ve lived downtown for 13 years and this area has been ridden with crime, drugs, trash etc. You would think the residents would welcome this change. They seem to not grab the concept that by allowing the redevelopment they are also increasing the value’s in their homes and making money, providing a safer place for the children and themselves to walk at night, a closer place to their home to get food (and no it wouldn’t be more expensive than where they go now especially when you have to consider transportation and time), etc.

  2. Congratulations to Mr. Fitzgerald for getting it right!

    And congrats to Morgan State University for, once again, playing a significant role in Middle East Baltimore.

    Nathan Sooy

  3. Middle East TRUTH & Reconciliation Council is the new resident driven community group re-organizing and empowering fragmented remaining blocks within the EBDI footprint.

    It has taken us 11 months to get Any coverage or acknowledgement of our existence by Baltimore’s media
    wizards?

    We take our reference, in naming ourselves \TRUTH & Reconciliation from Bishop Desmond Tutu’s position in
    South Afrika. Bishop Tutu was acutely aware of the need
    for the world view to embrace the fact that people who
    have endured the pains of racism and civic disinvestment,
    need a healing process that starts with our sharing the
    TRUTH about what we experience at the hands of Goliath
    power brokers. After we have been encouraged to share
    our TRUTHS….reconciliation can began and our collective
    futures have an opportunity for authentic liberation.

    Yes, its been a long journey for Middle East residents, but
    we reserve the right to think for ourselves, speak for ourselves and to encourage the speed of TRUTH to balance the
    realities of this urban renewal project on the lives of families living in Middle East.

    Namaste, Nia Redmond, founder Middle East TRUTH& Reconciliation Community Council/eastbaltimore101@gmail.com

  4. I feel that the residents of the Middle East community should fight this! I grew up in that area and growing up, things were not as bad as everyone claims. Its just that Hopkins, their employees from different states and countries feel it isn’t safe. Its bad enough Hopkins has pushed hundreds of residents off to who knows where but now they want to change the name? That’s like slapping me in the face. A great comparison would be thinking of this as the Europeans arrival to the Americas. The Europeans back then, called the Indians “savages” claiming that the way they lived was wrong and not up to their standards, when in fact, there was nothing wrong with the way the Indians lived: it was just different. President Daniels can say what he want: he just stepped into this city and despite his experience in Pennsylvania with the same type of situation, there is one difference: this ain’t no Pennsylvania! This redevelopment should have never happened. I feel that moving Baltimoreans out of the area does not solve this conflict between Hopkins and Baltimore it just temporarily solves it. What JHU and the hospital should do is get the employees of the hospital involved with the community. Of course they say once the redevelopment is complete Hopkins will get involved with the community: because the community that is there would be one of their (Hopkins) own creation, one that they feel deserves their help. This is not only coming from a Baltimorean, but also a Hopkins undergraduate student. I am aware what Hopkins does: supply many Baltimoreans with jobs (#1 employer),despite the fact that most of these jobs are janitorial and or dietary and or security, and provide hospital care not only to Baltimore metropolitan area but also to the nation. But the one thing Hopkins has failed to do is come into the heavily populated African American communities around the Hopkins campus and simply say “Hi”. Instead they run in fear because of the images of the Wire that have been embedded into their brains. Look up Middle East Baltimore on Google, and what do you see??? Run down houses, children roaming the streets. As a former resident of Middle East Baltimore, I know this is not all there is or was but Hopkins failed to realize that because their vision was blurred by this stupid redevelopment that prime goal should have been to make redevelop the houses in the community for the residents that lived there, just as Broadway was redone.

  5. I am very proud that the residence spoke out about this name change. It would have been yet another slap in their face. I am sorry I couldn’t attend last night,because I would have asked if this could be a source of income for the community. If so it could help off set some of the increases in taxes, water and sewage and the prices of the food etc. that will surely surface in about two to three years.I think EBDI needs to look at allowing the residents to be apart of what they created. This again could help with the strained relationship JHH has with the people that surround their ever growing EMPIRE. The message is SHARE..
    I would have stopped the meeting in the beganning because that was not the most important item on the table. Where is the money that is unaccounted for, What now will happen to the vacant boarded up houses that were to be the next phase. They would have been more important then the name change…

  6. To DO:

    We fully understand that the redevelopment is going to increase our property value. For that reason, the residents feel that anything done in our neighborhood should be done with at least consulting us. The problem is that Hopkins is treating the development like there are no home owners left in the area and they have a blank check to do what they want. If it affects our property value, it is our business and we will not allow them to proceed without our input. We welcome the redevelopment; however, we do not welcome the redevelopment without our input. If I came to your house and said that I am going to build you a deck. That deck will definitely increase your property value. But, that deck will come with the condition that I will be able to use it whenever I please. How would you feel if you came home and I was having a cookout with about twenty people on your deck? That is how we feel? If Hopkins really cared about the community and wanted to make it better, it could start by respecting the residents. Only then will the process be able to move forward.