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Baltimore officials tout Park Heights redevelopment momentum ahead of Preakness

Row houses on the 4700 block of park heights avenue in June 2014. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Rowhouses in the 4700 block of Park Heights Avenue in June 2014. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Baltimore plans to solicit developers this summer to overhaul a large swath of land in the heart of Park Heights, and a corporate resident says it will boost incentives for employees to live in the area.

Those are two new efforts in the long struggle to restore a once-thriving community.

On Thursday at Pimlico Race Course, where the Preakness Stakes runs this weekend, Mayor Catherine Pugh and officials from the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development said they intend to issue a request for proposal in July seeking developers to submit plans to overhaul 30 acres of land. The property is south of CC Jackson Recreation Center, on the west side of Park Heights Avenue, in the area’s designated Major Redevelopment Area.

“The momentum (redeveloping the neighborhood) has picked up extraordinarily. … Before the end of the year the whole MRA will be down, by this summer the RFP will be out for the 30 acres where we’re hoping to see new construction and home ownership,” Michael Braverman, director of Housing and Community Development, said.

The condition of Baltimore’s Park Heights neighborhood is a topic of conversation whenever the future of the Preakness Stakes in the city is discussed. Once a trolley suburb populated by the city’s middle class, the community has followed the arc of Baltimore’s struggles of economic decline, population loss and rising crime.

Executives from LifeBridge Health, which owns Sinai Hospital just east of Pimlico, said they intend to boost incentives for employees to live in the Park Heights area by “sevenfold.” Officials declined to announce the total dollar amount involved in the program. LifeBridge is also finishing plans for a 100,000- to 150,000-square-foot outpatient facility on the Sinai Hospital property.

“This investment will serve as a catalyst for other investment in Park Heights, as well as contribute to a wider transformation of this community,” Brian White, executive vice president at LifeBridge Health, said.

A key part in redeveloping Park Heights is the future of Pimlico. Once, when horse racing was a more popular sport, the track was a community hub. As horse racing’s popularity declined, the number of race days dwindled and the facility deteriorated. The track became a dead zone outside of Preakness weekend.

Baltimore and the state are currently examining ways to overhaul Pimlico to ensure the Preakness Stakes remains at the track and it hosts regular activity that bolsters surrounding neighborhoods. The first phase of a Maryland Stadium Authority study examining the issue estimated the cost of overhauling Pimlico will be between $248 million and $321 million. The final phase of the study reviewing options to create an “optimal venue” with year-round nonracing events is expected to be finished by the end of the year.

Del. Samuel “Sandy” Rosenberg, who represents the area around Pimlico, said he believes the state will be on board, along with the city, to contribute to the overhaul. Track owner The Stronach Group, via its Maryland Jockey Club subsidiary, will be expected to make an investment comparable to what the Orioles and Ravens chipped in for Oriole Park at Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium.

“I would expect that in next year’s General Assembly we would move forward with renovating the track,” Rosenberg said.

Will Hanna, chairman and CEO of the new Park Heights Redevelopment Association and a resident for 32 years, said his neighbors, despite the $110 million in public investment to date in the Park Heights Master Plan, remain skeptical about revitalization efforts. Once there’s more tangible evidence that money is producing results they’ll believe Baltimore is serious about restoring Park Heights.

“I think people in the community have been promised (progress) for so long, for the last 20 or 30 years, and they haven’t seen a lot of movement. I think now, once they see the movement, and start seeing the projects like (the roughly $6 million) Park Circle starting to move forward … once they start seeing a lot of orange cones and cranes moving, people get excited about that,” Hanna said.

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