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East Baltimore residents ponder Project C.O.R.E.’s landmark moment

Adam Bednar//June 13, 2019

East Baltimore residents ponder Project C.O.R.E.’s landmark moment

By Adam Bednar

//June 13, 2019

"It's a shame they couldn't fix them up and put families in them," says Broadway East resident Cherry McDonald of the blight demolition program. "But it's good because there was a lot of drug activity." (The Daily Record/Adam Bednar)
“It’s a shame they couldn’t fix them up and put families in them,” says Broadway East resident Cherry McDonald of the blight demolition program. “But it’s good because there was a lot of drug activity.” (The Daily Record/Adam Bednar)

Cherry McDonald, 51, has lived in Baltimore his entire life. Walking in the middle of East Lanvale Street, he explained he’d moved back-and-forth between east and west Baltimore since he was a kid.

Years ago the Broadway East neighborhood was a bustling place filled with families, McDonald said. He lived in the area when he was younger, and has called the community home again for roughly the last decade. Work had halted early Thursday morning, but evidence of ongoing demolition and destruction by neglect surrounded him.

“It’s a shame they couldn’t fix them up and put families in them,” McDonald said with a slight motion of his arm as if revealing the destruction around him. “But it’s good because there was a lot of drug activity.”

Shortly before, about a city block away in the street outside 1701 N. Bradford St., Gov. Larry Hogan, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, and a long list of elected officials, bureaucrats and developers just finished celebrating a milestone.

Hogan took the controls of an excavator and repeatedly rammed its bucket into the wall of the row home. The cracking wood and crumbling brick marked the start of demolition on the latest vacant property torn down in the city.

The otherwise inconspicuous rowhome, however, was not just any property. It was by the state’s count — an accounting subject to controversy over what’s being counted in the total —  the 4,000th vacant blighted “unit” of property toppled since Project C.O.R.E., or Creating Opportunities for Renewal and Enterprise, launched more than three years ago.

The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development announced razing 4,000 units as a goal of Project C.O.R.E. in the fall of 2017 when the initiative had only obliterated 1,154 housing units in the city.

Maryland and Baltimore launched project C.O.R.E. as a partnership in early 2016. At the time it was set as a four-year program with more than $75 million in state funding to address blight in the city.

A row of blighted homes on North Bradford Street in Baltimore await demolition. (The Daily Record/Adam Bednar)
A row of blighted homes on North Bradford Street in Baltimore await demolition. (The Daily Record/Adam Bednar)

Combined with economic development funds and city contributions, the initiative was expected to amount to a $700 million effort to eliminate blight in Baltimore.

Maryland, so far, has invested $420 million in state financing into the program, Hogan said on Thursday, that’s attracted a total of $1.8 billion worth of investment.

As initially envisioned, the idea was to use Project C.O.R.E. funds to clear large chunks of blight, convert them into green space and try to attract new development. City and state officials hoped to entice private investment with a variety incentives but expected some land to remain vacant public space.

Michael Braverman, commissioner of Baltimore Department of Housing and Community Development, said a comprehensive list of developments planned at sites cleared via Project C.O.R.E was not immediately available.

A handful of projects, such as MCB Real Estate LLC and MLR Partners’ proposed $100 million mixed-use project slated for the site of the former Madison Park North complex, a/k/a the “Murder Mall,” have previously been announced.

Project C.O.R.E. funds go toward more than just demolition. Projects such as Cross Street Partners’ Hoen & Co. Lithograph Building and the Mary Harvin Health and Wellness Center have received millions of dollars in funds.

Those dollars have also been used as incentives for projects on land cleared of unwanted homes prior to Project C.O.R.E.’s launch.

Baltimore finished razing vacant homes on the Tivoly Triangle in Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello in 2015 through the Vacants to Value program. The city last month selected Leon N. Weiner and Associates and Urban Green LLC to build 79 “net-zero energy homes” on the site, made possible by Project C.O.R.E. funds.

Adding to the program’s scope, Hogan turned Project C.O.R.E. into a crime-fighting tool in 2018. The governor ordered the state to prioritize clearing vacant properties city police and government officials identified as hubs of illegal activity in high crime neighborhoods.

Hogan, after exiting the excavator’s cockpit on Thursday, said he’s satisfied with the pace of new development. Even cleared land where there wasn’t an opportunity for, or interest in, development resulted in “beautiful parks and green space,” he said.

“But in many cases it’s become community centers, and places of employment, and senior housing, and retail opportunities in food deserts. I think it’s been incredible … it’s been a real success,” Hogan said.

Others in the neighborhood aren’t so thrilled with the demolition, at least the immediate results.

Theresa Taylor, 59, stood outside the home she rents at 1633 N. Montford Ave. Crews cleared an old bar next to her home, she said, about three months ago.

While razing the commercial property, crews damaged the decorative wood cornice on her house’s front. Unbeknownst to her, she said, workers also knocked a hole in her roof, and rain from a storm destroyed a second-floor bedroom.

“When it rained it just poured through the ceiling,” Taylor said.

Others said they believe all the destruction will improve the neighborhood, even if they won’t be around to enjoy it.

Tonya Harrison, 51, wearing a cap, black hooded sweatshirt, jeans and a pair of Nikes, shuffled toward her home using a cane as a light drizzle fell.

Harrison said she lived in one of two homes still occupied on the 1700 block of North Port Street for the last several years. That row of homes abuts a line of recently demolished properties in the 1700 block of North Montford Avenue.

Unfortunately for her, she said, she’s due in rent court next week because she’s facing eviction. She’s been unable to work because of her hurt leg. Despite the possibility she won’t be around to see the finished product, she said, the demolition is the right thing for the neighborhood.

“It will make it a better neighborhood,” Harrison said.



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