Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan unveiled nearly $700 million in investments for Baltimore Tuesday, aimed at fighting blight by tearing down thousands of abandoned buildings and fostering new development.
Hogan joined Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to introduce the plan, dubbed Project C.O.R.E., and pledge $94 million over four years for the demolition, the Baltimore Sun reported. $75 million will come from the state, and $19 million from the city. Hogan also pledged $600 million in subsidies to encourage new development.
The money will allow a fourfold increase in demolition of vacant city properties, which will then be turned into parks and green spaces and offered to developers. City officials estimate 20 blocks will be demolished this year, overseen by the Maryland Stadium Authority.
Baltimore’s 622,000 residents live among about 16,000 vacant buildings and 14,000 vacant lots, according to city estimates. The vacant properties drag down property values and generate feelings of hopelessness in many of Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods.
At the news conference to announce the project, Hogan said Baltimore is the “core” of Maryland. “As I walked the streets of this city, people were repeatedly calling out and begging us to help do something about the blight that is all around them,” Hogan said. “We have heard your calls for action … I’m a guy on a mission who wants to get things done.”
While most were supportive of the project, Ray Kelly, a community builder with the No Boundaries Coalition in Sandtown-Winchester, told the Sun that while he’s optimistic, he has concerns. Razing blight-stricken blocks could scatter drug dealers into surrounding neighborhood streets, he said. He also said the plan could turn into “just another gentrification initiative.” “Is there a program or a plan in place for the people who have lived in the community, and struggled through the blight, so that they can afford these new properties?”
Baltimore is no stranger to blight-fighting initiatives. Many programs have been launched in the city in recent years, ranging from aid packages for real estate investors and incentives for rehabbing homes, to tapping into local knowledge of community members to identify absent owners.
The news conference was held in Sandtown-Winchester, the neighborhood where Freddie Gray lived and was arrested. Gray’s death last April sparked public protests, and drew national attention to conditions in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Project C.O.R.E. demolition began in that same neighborhood just minutes after the news conference ended.
Kelsey E. Thomas is a writer and editor based in the most upper-left corner of the country. She writes about urban policy, equitable development and the outdoors (but also about nearly everything else) with a focus on solutions-oriented journalism. She is a former associate editor and current contributing editor at Next City.