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Dundalk Rennissance
Dundalk’s image as a gritty, blue-collar community may obscure the fact that it offers things such as affordable waterfront property and new schools. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Changing minds about Dundalk

No joke, group is trying to improve community image

Sparrows Point steel mill. Blue collar. Brick rowhomes.

These are some of the ways many Baltimore-area residents would define Dundalk. The Dundalk Renaissance Corp. wants to add a few more adjectives.

“We’re at a critical point. We want people to come here and embrace what we have to offer,” said Dave Janiszewski, president of the Dundalk Renaissance Corp.

On Thursday, the nonprofit unveiled the new slogan, “Dundalk: Live the Unexpected,” as part of a marketing campaign aimed at trying to attract new residents and development. The corporation wants to emphasize aspects of the community that many people don’t know about, such as its 43 miles of waterfront, the Sparrows Point Country Club and new schools.

“There’s a lot more to Dundalk than the steel plant. Obviously, there’s a proud heritage there, but there’s a lot more to offer,” said Amy Menzer, executive director of Dundalk Renaissance Corp.

But trying to rehabilitate Dundalk’s image won’t be easy.

The neighborhood has a median income of $48,440, well below Baltimore County’s $66,068 median income. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, nearly 32 percent of homes are occupied by renters. More than 14 percent of the roughly 63,000 people who live in the community are below the federal poverty line.

It has over the years gained a reputation as a gritty, working-class area that has suffered as the steel mill hemorrhaged jobs. The community has also become the punchline of local jokes, many centering around the area’s most famous landmark, the nearby Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant, often referred to as the “golden eggs,” a reference to the facility’s twin, gold-colored, egg-shaped anaerobic sludge digesters that tower over the Baltimore beltway.

The community has some selling points in trying to attract residents. It’s less expensive than many suburban areas in the metro area. The median home cost in the neighborhood is $119,700. The cost of living is 3.6 percent lower than the national average.

Joseph T. “Jody” Landers III, a former executive vice president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors and mayoral candidate, served as a consultant on the marketing campaign. He said Dundalk has the resources, especially because of the waterfront, to change the way the community is perceived.

He said he recently reviewed data of waterfront homes and found that they ranged in price from about $100,000 to $700,000. But the median price of the homes was about $200,000.

“You can’t find that anywhere else in the Chesapeake Bay basin,” Landers said.

Residents like Stacy Dawes say their community can change its reputation.

Dawes, originally from Bel Air, discovered the neighborhood when she was living in Canton. She stumbled upon it after looking for a place to take her dog swimming. After getting married and starting a family, she and her husband didn’t want to move to the “deep suburbs.” They wanted to be near the water and keep their commute to work short. Dundalk offered the best of both worlds.

“Unlike the downtown water, it’s not just a view, it’s usable water,” Dawes said.

Although changing perceptions about a place can be difficult, Dundalk’s boosters believe they can do that simply by getting people to visit the neighborhood. Janiszewski said that he has firsthand experience with how a simple trip can change opinions.

Last year Janiszewski hosted a party at his home after the Baltimore Marathon. When he was inviting people, he received several half-joking comments about the party being in Dundalk. But once guests were at his house and could see the water and enjoy a fire in the backyard, their attitudes changed quickly.

“There’s a lot of things going on positively for Dundalk, and we just want to make them as visible as possible to those who aren’t familiar with the community,” Janiszewski said.