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Redevelopment of Park Heights Moves Forward With Slots Money

OSCAR COBBS, VICE CHAIR OF THE PIMLICO COMMUNITY REDEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY
OSCAR COBBS, VICE CHAIR OF THE PIMLICO COMMUNITY REDEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY
Editors note: Last year, Bmore Media highlighted some of the changes in the Park Heights neighborhood of Northwest Baltimore. Bmore Innovation and Jobs News Editor Barbara Pash got an update on the area’s development, some of which is happening with money from slots.
 
 
When Oscar Cobbs looks at his neighborhood, he sees many changes.
 
“A lot is happening,” says Cobbs, a 30-year resident of Park Heights, where an ambitious redevelopment plan is underway.
 
The Park Heights Master Plan has two components: construction of new buildings and an expansion of human services.
 
The Baltimore City redevelopment project aims to revitalize an aging area that has pockets of neat row houses with manicured front lawns amid the stereotypical image of boarded-up buildings and urban blight. The plan encompasses a 1,500-acre area, of which the focus of current funding and activity is a 62-acre “core” area around Garrison Avenue and Reisterstown and Pimlico roads.
 
Because of its proximity to Pimlico Race Course, the Park Heights Master Plan gets a slice of the state’s slots revenue.
And that money is allowing neighborhood development group Park Heights Renaissance -- the city-appointed lead agency for the Park Heights Master Plan --  to offer health screenings, tutoring programs, home-buying assistance and other services.
 
The area is also attracting some interest from private and nonprofit developers.
 
Two buildings are already in the works. This year, ground will be broken on an $8 million low-income senior housing building on a now-vacant, city-owned site. The first senior housing in the area, the four-story, 60-unit building is a project led by Park Heights Renaissance and Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc., a Jewish community development agency. The federal Housing and Urban Development and Baltimore City are financing it.
 
Construction should begin next year on the Cal Ripken Ball Field, a combination baseball/football field with a basketball court and a walking path, a collaboration of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and Baltimore City.
 
Julius Colon, CEO of Park Heights Renaissance, says he is now in the process of evaluating the empty land and vacant properties in the core area as a prelude to inviting developers to bid on building single-family homes, building or rehabbing rental housing and building the retail elements of the plan. He expects that some developers will be private companies while others will be nonprofits. For example, the Affordable Housing Corporation has already acquired 11 properties and rehabbed two so far.
 
It’s too early to name names but Colon indicated that a preliminary meeting with developers was well attended.
 
Cobbs lives near the core area where vacant properties are being demolished and empty land acquired in preparation for the future construction of houses, stores, and parks that the plan promises. The area’s redevelopment also calls for offices, traffic circles, a library and a commercial area with a grocery store, shops and restaurants.
 
Slots money is helping pay health screenings, job training and after-school programs. Some of the new and expanded services include:
 
·      Park Heights Renaissance hiring a resource manager to implement school programs;
·      Baltimore Reads’ GED programs;
·      Sinai Hospital of Baltimore’s tutoring program;
·      Park West Medical Center’s HIV/AIDS outreach workers;
·      Park Heights Community Health Alliance registering residents for free health services; and,
·      Park Heights Renaissance home-buyers program to help residents with their mortgage.
 
In fiscal year 2012, the first year slots funding became available, it fell far short of estimates -- $455,000 instead of the expected $1.5 million. That means that Colon had to put off a job training program for the next fiscal year, when the pot from slots is expected to rise to $4 million. But this funding depends on factors like the opening of slots parlors at Arundel Mills and in Baltimore City.
 
“When more slots parlors come on line and we can have a steady stream of money, we will move forward more aggressively” with demolishing vacant properties, clearing and grading the land, and constructing, says Thomas Stosur, director of the city planning department and chair of the Pimlico Community Development Authority. The group is advising Park Heights Renaissance on how the slots money should be spent.
 
The final cost of the Park Heights Master Plan will depend on variables like the scope, site development, infrastructure and public works, and housing that eventually results. Funding comes from the federal and state governments, Baltimore City agencies, foundations and, eventually private developers.
 
Says Cobbs, “We see projections year by year but I haven’t seen a final cost. That hasn’t been determined yet.”
 
Still, Cobbs sounds pleased with progress so far, especially the enhanced social services.
 
Cobbs praises Park Heights Renaissance for identifying issues in the community and addressing them. For example, he points to the home-buyers program that, he hopes, will have an effect on his immediate neighborhood. “There are 32 houses on the block and 16 are vacant,” he says. “We’re wondering how that [program] will help us.”
 
The Cal Ripken Ball Field is the first link in an eventual seven-acre park that serve as an amenity for an existing community center and new residential housing planned for city-owned land.
 
And, the Park Heights Master Plan appears to be attracting private investments. Lillian Sydnor, president of the Coldspring Neighborhood Improvement Association, points to the recent opening of Pharma Care, a private venture that combines a pharmacy with community health services.
 
“The neighbors feel we are making progress,” says Sydnor, a 45-year resident of the Coldspring neighborhood.
 
Colon is now in the process of evaluating the empty land and vacant properties in the core area as a prelude to inviting developers to bid on building single-family homes, building or rehabbing rental housing and building the retail elements of the plan.
 
He expects that some developers will be private companies; others, non-profit organizations. For example, the Affordable Housing Corporation has already acquired 11 properties and rehabbed two so far.

Barbara Pash is a Pikesville resident and Bmore Media's Innovation and Jobs News Editor. She can be reached at innovationnews@bmoremedia.com


PHOTOS:

Oscar Cobbs, vice chair of the Pimlico Community Redevelopment Authority / Photo by Steve Ruark
Julius Colon, president and CEO of Park Heights Renaissance / Photo by Arianne Teeple
 

 
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