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Optimism In Investment After Turmoil

P. Kenneth Burns

From Greater Rosemont to Druid Heights, community leaders are seeing last week's riots in the city as an opportunity to attract the investment that by-passed Baltimore for other cities after riots in 1968 after the death of Rev. Martin Luther King.

"Hopefully if our leaders – not only government but the private sector, the foundations and everything – will get together and really focus and opportunities will be created," said Kelly Little,  former executive director of the Druid Heights Community Development Corporation.

Richard Harris, deputy director of Group Ministries Baltimore, Greater Rosemont's community development corporation, said the investment “has to come."

"They can’t leave [this] part of the city vacant like it is currently; they can’t leave it like that," he said.

Karyl Leggio, finance professor at Loyola’s Sellinger School of Business, said the city is having "a tipping point moment."

"We’re at the point where we’ve had a bad event," she said. "We know nationally it has not been a favorable view of Baltimore."

Leggio suggested that strong economic development groups, such as the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, the Economic Alliance, the Downtown Partnership and the Greater Baltimore Committee should come together to make the right investments to address systemic problems seen in some parts of the city. Economic leaders should focus on small businesses as well as big corporations.

She also said she hopes other companies emulate CVS' commitment to the city.  The company paid its employees even though they couldn't come to work because two of its stores had been torched and announced they will rebuild.

"I hope what the CVS’ and the other businesses see is that they are important to this area and they redouble their effort and put more businesses downtown," she said.

Attracting investment to West Baltimore in particular has always been challenging.

Not far from the center of last week's riots, the Druid Heights CDC built new 17 homes that line the north side of the 600 block of Baker Street, near Pennsylvania Avenue, in the last five years.  Little, who had been a part of the corporation for two decades, said it was ten years before they broke ground on the homes.

"It wasn’t so much that people were being difficult and didn’t want to sell," he said. "it was the abandonment.  We had houses with no roofs, no rear walls; that there was no one to negotiate with.”

That was before the corporation got financing for the project.

Bank of America was a partner at first, but pulled out, forcing the corporation to try to find a different way to finance the project.

"So we were able to find some other partners; private developers to come in and work with us to try to keep this thing moving," Little said.

The corporation is now looking to build 21 more homes on the south side of the block.  Little is confident the financing will materialize, despite the recent turmoil.