(Image via Cho Benn Holback and Associates)
A new innovation center for West Baltimore is key to a redevelopment project that will transform Madison Park North along North Ave. in Reservoir Hill, officials including Gov. Larry Hogan and Mayor Catherine Pugh announced on Friday.
The 50,000 square foot center, which is slated to include space for tech companies and community collaboration, will be a hub for Innovation Village, the effort to spur new startups and job growth in a 6.8 square mile innovation district in the central part of West Baltimore. The innovation center is supported by $2 million in public funding.
Providing space to come together and create companies is one part of the equation to provide more resources for the area. Plans for the eight-acre site also call for retail space, including a grocery store in an area that is a food desert, 300 to 500 apartments and a 30,000 square foot community health center is under consideration on two adjacent sites.
Across Lennox Street, the John Eager Howard School is also being redeveloped. The Village also intends to bring free WiFi to the area. Transportation-wise, the street itself is also set for redevelopment with improvements for transit, biking and pedestrians through the North Avenue Rising plan.
Providing those resources can create an environment that opens up innovation to everyone in the community, said Innovation Village Chairman Richard May.
“It’s about creating access so that you have these pathways of opportunity using people’s creativity and building infrastructure around that, so people can launch their ideas, become entrepreneurs and serve the people in their own communities,” May said.
May spent the last decade with a global firm providing financial management advisory expertise to large companies with billions in revenue, and has also supported startups through private equity. The Reservoir Hill resident is one of a group of neighbors who spearheaded Innovation Village with a vision to align the existing talent, universities and other assets of the area. The group has grown since the effort’s January launch.
One part of an urban renewal plan from then 1970s, the 202-apartment Madison Park North complex came to be known as “Murder Mall” to its residents. After long-standing complaints and negotiations with the former owner, an agreement was reached in 2014 that resulted in residents vacating the property.
To plan its future, residents provided input, and efforts included a HUD study recommending a dense, mixed-use project that could link the four historic neighborhoods in the area, including Reservoir Hill and Bolton Hill. Mt. Royal Community Development Corporation organized sessions for public feedback on potential plans for the site. Now, the apartment complex will be razed to make way for the new development.
Creating a space for the community includes involving them in the development process. The development is being led by P. David Bramble of MCB Real Estate and Mark L. Renbaum of MLR Partners, both of whom focus on Baltimore. Bramble has lived his entire life just a few blocks from the site on Madison Avenue.
Bramble said the developers “pledge to continue working with all of the public, community and institutional stakeholders” on the project.
The state and city are supporting the project with $2 million through Project C.O.R.E., which was created earlier this year to address blight in the city. Those funds were awarded to Mt. Royal Community Development Corporation, which sponsors Innovation Village. It’s one of 30 community projects that received a total of $16 million in funding announced Friday.
“By working with local community organizations, as well as the private sector, transformative projects like this will help ensure that Baltimore’s future is better and brighter than its present or its past,” Hogan said.
— Baltimore Housing (@Bmore_Housing) December 9, 2016
May said organizers have “already begun to refer minority and women-owned businesses to this project, and encouraging them to hire local talent from these neighborhoods.”
Just before a bulldozer started tearing through one of the apartment buildings, Nate Loewentheil, a senior economic adviser who led President Barack Obama’s Baltimore task force, reflected on the history of that area of West Baltimore. It was like the “Harlem of Baltimore,” he said.
The vision offered by the project “shows you that history is a cycle, and that big things continue to happen in this part of Baltimore,” he said.-30-
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