By Timothy Cox,
Special to the AFRO

Plans to renovate and revitalize a section of Baltimore’s inner harbor shoreline – long ignored by city planners– will include projects to honor the Baltimore Black Sox and the late Baltimore legislator, Congressman Elijah Eugene Cummings.

On Feb. 9 the Baltimore City’s Planning Commission approved the plan to redevelop the Middle Branch shoreline that impacts 19 adjacent communities. 

“In America, we ignore places where people actually live– especially where Black and Brown people live,” said Brad Rogers, executive director of South Baltimore Gateway Partnership (SBGP). 

SBGP contributed $2 million to the $23.1 million project. 

Rogers, an Owings Mills native, has always been a proponent of instigating improvements within Baltimore City. He has two degrees from Duke University, including a law degree and one in environmental management.

“I could have easily taken my law degree and settled in the suburbs,” he said. Instead, the married father of three teenage sons, chooses to live in the city’s Mt. Washington area. 

Rogers said he is very aware of how certain communities are often left out of redevelopment efforts. 

“It’s always been a double standard in places like Baltimore. I wanted to find a way to bridge that chasm, to enrich kids in the suburbs and the inner-city kids too,” said Rodgers. [It] shouldn’t just be good for one and not the other.”

For decades, residents have seen the Downtown Baltimore side of the harbor renovated, redeveloped and updated, with little investment into the side of the harbor connected to communities of color.

The Reimagine Middle Branch plan was initiated by the City of Baltimore and the non-profit South Baltimore Gateway Partnership in collaboration with Parks and People, the South Baltimore 7 Coalition (SB7), federal, state agencies and a variety of local organizations.

“Funding strategies for the plan highlight $165 million worth of projects and initiatives already completed or currently underway. The bulk of the funding, in addition to seed money for a number of related initiatives, comes from Maryland-based casino revenue,” said Rogers. 

Specifically, funds from the MGM National Harbor, the Maryland Live venue in Arundel Mills and the Horseshoe Casino in Downtown Baltimore, have each contributed to the success of the ongoing South Baltimore initiative, he said.

This commission vote signals a commitment by Baltimore City and its partners to deliver parks, projects and programs that unite 19 neighborhoods in South Baltimore by reconnecting them to one another and to the Middle Branch waterfront. 

(Courtesy Photo)

Future park projects include a new Baltimore Black Sox Park in Westport, the area of the city that the local Negro Leagues team called home in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This initiative is being led by the Parks and People Foundation and will help anchor an African American Heritage District, incorporating other significant sites in the area, such as Mount Auburn Cemetery, Leadenhall Baptist Church and the Riverside Park Pool, where the late U. S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings demonstrated against racial segregation in Baltimore City parks as a youth. 

Honoring the Baltimore Black Sox “is an important part of recognizing the significance of African American history in South Baltimore and bringing these stories to the forefront,” said Frank Lance, president and CEO of Parks and People. “Highlighting the accomplishments of the Black Sox and other culturally important sites in the Heritage District will be a step towards more equitable story-telling of the Middle Branch and Baltimore.”

The February Planning Commission meeting was the culmination of a multi-year effort led by a consortium of stakeholders from private and public sectors.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott, was particularly elated following the Planning Commission’s unanimous, affirmative vote.

“This marks a significant moment for South Baltimore, showcasing the power of collaboration and consensus-building through the contributions of community leaders, residents, institutions, and young people,” said Scott, in a statement.

The reception from the community has been positive. 

When asked about entities that may oppose the Reimagine Middle Branch Plan, or if he has knowledge of those who may have issues with the long-term project, Rogers noted that through due- diligence and hard work, his project alliance surveyed the community thoroughly in order to ensure most were on board and had a full understanding of the benefits of the new initiative. 

“No one ever looked at this in a negative way– such as gentrification– or that we’re unfairly displacing residents,” said Rogers. 

As a spear-head to kicking-off the Middle Branch project, Rogers touts the recently-opened Middle Branch Fitness and Wellness Center at Cherry Hill which opened in November 2022.

Rogers highlighted other projects that are already underway, including Phase 1 of the Middle Branch Resiliency Initiative (MBRI), which has received a total of $48 million in federal, state, and local funding. MBRI will support new climate resiliency improvements, such as marshes and planted berms that will protect land and infrastructure around MedStar Harbor Hospital and

BGE’s Spring Garden facility.

BGE Field at Reedbird Park in Cherry Hill is also open to the public. 

Myra Johnson, a city employee with 26 years of service to her name, is a frequent visitor of the new Middle Branch fitness center in Cherry Hill. The 1979 graduate of Southern High School has nothing but kudos for the new facility. 

As a native Baltimorean and former resident of the public housing in Cherry Hill, Johnson says she vividly recalls when this area of Middle Branch housed a landfill – making her neighborhood a literal dump. 

“It’s unbelievable that this beautiful complex is sitting in a wonderful location, just for our use,” she said. 

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