Baltimore City Council member Carl Stokes has called a second hearing to examine the status of the problem-plagued $1.8 billion redevelopment of the Middle East community led by East Baltimore Development Inc.
Mr. Stokes has set the hearing for Nov. 9. As far as we’re concerned, it can’t come soon enough.
“EBDI and Forest City [Forest City-New East Baltimore Partnership, the project’s master developer] are expecting a tough hearing,” Mr. Stokes told The Daily Record.
Good. There are still plenty of tough questions that need to be answered about the nation’s largest urban redevelopment project, which after a decade of little progress despite the investment of more than $200 million in public funds, seems to be searching for a new strategy and identity.
The Daily Record disclosed the problems of the massive project and provided the first public accounting of the money spent on it in a series earlier this year. The council’s first hearing on the project on March 30 came in response to the series.
Touted at the outset as “America’s new model for urban development,” the project has lagged far behind its original timetable. Meanwhile, much of the African-American community known as Middle East has been torn down and many of its residents relocated to make room for development that still has not come.
EBDI, a private nonprofit created to spearhead the project, has operated with little public oversight. Its partners include the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Johns Hopkins University.
At the upcoming hearing, Mr. Stokes says he wants to see updated and detailed construction, financial and employment information.
We can suggest some other questions, namely:
Why are EBDI and Forest City having so much trouble coming up with a master plan that the community can support? After several heated meetings with community members over the summer, there is still no consensus.
What role will biotech play in the future of this development? Original plans, which attracted considerable private investment, called for a world-class biotech park near Johns Hopkins Hospital with as many as five buildings. One of those buildings opened in 2009 and is still not fully leased. The O’Malley administration recently came forward with plans to build a state health department lab on one of the other building sites.
Now instead of biotech, the project partners are emphasizing the construction of a 20-story housing tower for Johns Hopkins graduate students and a 1,400-space parking garage as well as a $40 million state-of-the-art school planned to attract new residents.
What is going on with the next phase of demolition? The burst of activity this week at the site surprised and angered residents, and the debate over whether the activity was demolition or merely preparation for demolition did nothing to help the already strained relationship between EBDI and the Middle East community.
At the first hearing, Mr. Stokes and other council members reacted angrily to a lack of specific information about the project, especially when they asked for the exact number of permanent jobs created, how many of those jobs went to residents of the Middle East community and how many contracts were awarded to African-American firms in East Baltimore.
“You’ve got to tell us the truth,” Mr. Stokes said at one point. “You only get one shot at it.”
As it turns out, representatives of EBDI and its partners will get a second shot seven months later. This time they had better hit the target.