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EBDI gets $2.5M to raze

Baltimore’s spending board has approved $2.5 million in public funds to spur demolition of vacant, blighted houses at the stalled East Baltimore Development Inc. project.

The work will be the first move toward new housing starts in the 57-acre Phase 2 of the $1.8 billion redevelopment in Middle East, north of the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Hundreds of families were relocated from 1,300 homes in the neighborhood over the past decade, many under eminent domain, to make way for the project.

EBDI School Construction

(The Daily Record Photo/Maximilian Franz)

Once the homes were vacated, however, EBDI, a nonprofit, delayed building new housing in the area, leaving the derelict and blighted houses unattended and the community as a whole resembling a ghost town.

The new demolition funds approved on Wednesday by the Board of Estimates will come from a state revitalization grant given to the city in 2011.

They were approved less than a month before the expected opening of the Elmer A. Henderson: A Johns Hopkins Partnership School, a new, $42 million charter school for elementary and middle school students.

The 7-acre school site is surrounded by vacant houses — an eyesore, according to City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, a member of the Board of Estimates who voted for the grant to EBDI.

“We don’t want kids to look out of the windows of that new school at blight,” Young said.

Young said the demolition would take place along Chester Street. Later, however, his aide, Carolyn Blakeney, said the exact addresses and total number of homes slated to be demolished were uncertain.

Blakeney referred questions to EBDI’s CEO, Christopher Shea, who did not return a request for comment Wednesday about details of the pending demolitions.

EBDI’s new board chairman, former Baltimore City Solicitor Thurman W. Zollicoffer Jr., said in an interview with The Daily Record on Oct. 14 that his first priority would be adding housing to the school site.

Ryland Homes has been negotiating to build market-rate units in the 2000 block of East Eager Street for more than a year. A request for proposals for that housing — located near the charter school site — was posted by EBDI in June 2012, but work has not started.

“We need to get some shovels in the ground and get going,” Zollicoffer said, in October. “Now we’ve got to race and get some residences built.”

A Hopkins spokesman said Wednesday the institution was delighted that some of the vacant properties would be razed.

“We are delighted that EBDI will be able to go ahead with the demolition and redevelopment of those vacant houses,” said Dennis O’Shea, in an email. “It’s a plus for the neighborhood as a whole; it will allow for residential and commercial redevelopment that will benefit the entire community.”

EBDI and its master developer, Forest City-New East Baltimore Partnership, have said they plan to build 2,100 new housing units at the 88-acre development. Hopkins has made available “live near your work” incentives that total up to $36,000 to its employees to purchase homes in the EBDI footprint and surrounding neighborhoods, O’Shea said.

The EBDI project began in 2001 under then-mayor and now Gov. Martin O’Malley. It was promoted as a massive redevelopment of an inner city community that would result in new housing, jobs for residents and a world-class biotech park, with five life sciences buildings for lease.

Since then, the project has experienced fits and starts.

Only one biotech building has been opened, and the vision for redevelopment has shifted to include the new charter school, a $12 million public park and a $60 million lab for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The state health lab and the park at the EBDI site were supported by the O’Malley administration, which pushed for location and funding for the projects.

In 2011, the EBDI project had cost $564 million, with $212.6 million of that in public funds, including $78 million in tax increment financing, or TIF, bonds.

EBDI’s partners in the redevelopment include the city, state, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Hopkins.