A year to the day after arsonists left the Mary Harvin Senior Center a smoldering pile of rubble, the project’s backers celebrated the affordable senior housing development’s ceremonial opening.
Employees of developer Woda Group Inc., elected officials and community members Wednesday praised the project, which includes 61 units of affordable housing for seniors, as a symbol of Baltimore’s resilience following last April’s riots.
“There are people in this world who build, and you can’t build with anger and violence,” said Kevin Bell, senior vice president of Woda Group.
The center became a symbol of the city’s troubles last year as riots raged following the death of Freddie Gray from injuries suffered in while in police custody.
The $16 million East Baltimore project was 45 percent complete with four stories of lumber framing when it was set on fire. Footage of the flames, which burned so hot it destroyed the concrete footers under the foundation, were shown on television all over the world and became visual shorthand for the city’s seething anger.
But the next morning, Woda Group employees were in the architect’s office at 10 a.m. working on plans to begin building again. The project’s financial backers, such as Capital One Bank and Hudson Housing Capital also remained committed.
Early last May, the developer announced plans to rebuild, and the project, which once wasn’t particularly notable in a city awash in new development, became a symbol of the city’s resilience in the months after the riots.
The project’s supporters Wednesday focused on the future during and hailed the project as part of a rebirth of Broadway East neighborhood which, like many parts of the city, has struggled with disinvestment, a declining industrial jobs base and white flight to the suburbs.
State Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, a Democrat whose district includes the center, said the community was prepared to the show the city it’s ready for a rebirth.
“They rebuilt Harbor East, but we’re going to show them how to rebuild Broadway East,” McFadden said.
Donte’ L. Hickman Sr., senior pastor at nearby Southern Baptist Church, who worked with Woda Group to bring the project to fruition, will help a neighborhood once called “a community without hope.” He said projects such as the center will help remove a stigma that ranged “from The Wire to the fire.”
Eric Booker, president of the New Broadway East Community Association, listed some grim statistics about the area, such as 1,200 vacant homes in the community, but praised the project as the start of a return for the neighborhood.
“I welcome you to Broadway East for a new beginning,” Booker said.
Gov. Larry Hogan whose administration was praised for its response to the riots last year, touted the new development as what’s possible when governments work together.
“This center is a prime example of what can happen when the state, city and private sector work together,” Hogan said.