Saturday, March 22, 2008

Progress Is Being Made Towards The Revitalization Of Dundalk, Maryland

Main Street of Dundalk, Maryland USA Photography by David Robert Crews

(note: This was originally posted on another blog of mine, Blue Skies Over Dundalk Maryland, on October 24, 2007.)

In the Wednesday October 24 edition of the Baltimore Sun, there is a good article about Dundalk's progress towards revitalization, written by Laura Barnhardt. Dundalk truly is the kind of place that is described in the article.

Except for Tim Young's incorrect statement about Dundalk's eateries being hole-in-the-wall type of establishments. If that were true than every single coffee shop and other small eatery in the Greater Baltimore Metropolitan Area is a hole-in-the-wall too. I'm more than twice as old as Tim; I remember what a real Baltimore area hole-in-the-wall place was like—no air conditioning, rusty old screen doors, flies in abundance, food and cooks all greasy, and the other customers were often more dangerous than the food or the cook was. Health departments, along with the general public’s modern tastes, have eliminated any real hole-in-the-wall type places from this part of the world.

The only one of those places that I ever knew of to be in Dundalk was closed down in the 1950s. My parents had instructed me that it was safe to walk by that local hole-in-the-wall on the way to and from O’Donnell’s Bakery, but they had warned me to never, ever go in there. You could still see rough little, forbidding looking restaurants near the dank, soot covered, rotting wharfs of the Inner Harbor and Fells Point, and in the poorly lit back streets of some Canton-Highlandtown neighborhoods, up into at least the 1970s. You pretty well have to leave the country in order to enjoy that kind of a challenging adventure anymore.

At first, I was quite irked after reading Tim's statement, but I do believe that Tim probably has a more benign, up to date definition of what people call a hole-in-the-wall nowadays. He did, after all, tell Laura, "I really like hole-in-the-walls with really good food," said Young. "Dundalk has lots of them." And he said that the he is enjoying the area. So welcome to Dundalk Tim.

Dundalk Village Shopping Center retail and office space, and the apartments above it, which are now named Heritage Commons, are being rehabbed by JMJ Properties. A small number of those apartments have been completely redone, and are really nice, comfortable and homey inside. They have good views of the tidy little parks and pleasant streetscapes of Dundalk Village. That location has great potential.

Baltimore County believes so sincerely in this potential that, according to the Sun article:

County officials said that because of its central location and historic importance, they decided to help with the renovation, approving a $1 million grant to make some of the upgrades, such as installing an elevator, and providing $2.5 million in loans.

I read in the March 17, 2005, edition of The Dundalk Eagle that the then-new owner of Dundalk Village Shopping Center, JMJ Properties, was to receive a $500,000 grant from the Baltimore County Office of Community Conservation and a $1.5 million loan from the county’s Office of Economic Development. It was just yesterday, on Oct. 23, 2007, that the Sun reporter received her info about the amounts listed in her article. So that means that JMJ has been receiving even more help than before. In February 2005, they paid $3.7 million for the property and are now the recipient of $3.5 million in taxpayer supported grants and loans. They are given some nice tax breaks, because Dundalk Village is a historical district. And they also receive lots of help in other ways, like from the community groups of Dundalk, and that is written about in the blog post below this one. The way that I see it today is, taxpayers have about as much invested in this rehab project as JMJ does. What do you think about that?

Unfortunately, that great potential for the shopping center's revitalization will never be fully realized, as long as JMJ Properties continues to develop and manage the Dundalk Village Shopping Center in the manner that they are doing so today. They rent retail space out as office space, and this is contrary to all that the Dundalk Urban Design Assistance Team planned for having Dundalk Village being the central part of the foundation for Dundalk’s complete renaissance. And most of the actual office space is empty. There were some long time tenants leasing office space who had planned to stay through the rehabbing process and enjoy a revitalized Dundalk, until they got fed up with the way that things were going with "JMJ's management style." One new lessee who was setting up an office in a retail space left shortly after beginning to move in, due to that JMJ management style. I won't name people, but I shop and eat in Dundalk Village a lot and hear plenty of justifiable, and verifiable, complaints from current tenants about their landlord.

Retail business in Dundalk Village is in worse condition than it has ever been. The place is damn near dead. The grocery store just closed, and the shopping center needs one badly. There is now a rumor circulating that the old grocery store will be torn down and a larger, better one will be erected. But the old store went out of business when it should have been thriving. It would have been thriving if JMJ had already had most of the Heritage Common apartments completed and rented out by now, and if they were aggressively, creatively managing and promoting the place. As far as promotion goes, they do next to nothing; they never put up holiday decorations or sponsor special events; there are no creatively-inspired-well-thought-out-widely-circulated add campaigns. Their new website for Heritage Commons is unattractive, mucky looking, insulting and basically bullcrap. That web site is the first thing that I, or anyone I know of, have ever seen, or heard about, as far as JMJ promoting the shopping center.

In a Sept. 27, 2007 Dundalk Eagle article, by Marge Neal, about the apartment rehab work, Michael Kohen of JMJ said that he was proud to be a part of the community. If JMJ personnel were serious about being an integral part of our hard working community here, they would be seen around their Dundalk property on a regular basis. But they rarely are ever seen here—not while shopping or eating in the shops, not while participating in local community groups’ meetings, or at our parades, outdoor music concerts, fairs and art show.

In that Sept. 27 Marge Neal article, it says that Jack Jacobs, of JMJ, has completed the dirty work on the first set of apartments. In reality, he is hardly ever around that dirty, dusty, hazardous, physically demanding work. The article states that Michael Kohen has overseen the project, but he did most of it from afar. JMJ management personnel spend very little time in Dundalk to supervise the rehabbing work that is being done on their buildings. But they do come here to pick up large denomination, taxpayer funded checks that are made out to them. They did show up here in force yesterday, on Tuesday October 23, though—for a ceremony held by Baltimore County officials to congratulate JMJ on the progress they have made so far on the rehabbing.

In that Sept. 27 article, Micheal Kohen says that the work is pretty much on schedule. Their work on the entire project was scheduled to be completed this month (October 2007), but they are only about 2/3 done, at the most. Part of the problem that screwed up the schedule had something to do with the first contractor who was doing the work, Hann and Hann Construction Services. Due to that situation, Chesapeake Contracting Group has taken over the project. Consequently, the work is now being done at a smooth, aggressive pace by some very capable craftsmen and laborers. But I heard that Baltimore County officials had to, shall we say, inspire JMJ to get their keysters in gear on this project.

JMJ has asked Baltimore County to help them in finding new tenets for the apartments. Which basically means they want the county to do that for them too. It appears to me that JMJ wants Baltimore County and Dundalk to pay for the rehabbing work and to do most of the promotion for the project.

The new contractors who are now doing the physical rehabbing work on the shopping center appear to be doing a very good job at it. I am pleased with the hard work that is being accomplished by those workers. I am also pleased with, and proud of, the hard work that is being done by many other various people towards Dundalk's revitalization, especially local businesses and community organizations. And I appreciate all of the good things that have been done, on Dundalk's behalf, by some of our elected officials.

It would be best for this project if JMJ Inc. were to make use of the fiber optics cable that is installed into one place in the shopping center, but is not currently being utilized at all. Fiber optics is the fantastic future of telecommunications technology, and very few people realize that Dundalk has that service available TODAY. Fiber optics service is greatly desired by many people who have businesses and homes in Baltimore City. Had JMJ run that fiber optics cable system all throughout the solidly built, architecturally outstanding shopping center buildings, then high tech retail businesses and also some people who want to do Internet based work at home in their apartments would flock to Dundalk.

I am certain that Dundalk's future possesses many such excellent possibilities.

We revitalization-minded citizens here in Dundalk are swimming upstream against JMJ’s steady flow of indifference towards us as a community and their treatment of their Dundalk Village property as no more than a monetary investment for their own gain—and a substantial part of that invested money is yours and mine.

Because I see such obvious inconsistencies with JMJ complying with Dundalk's UDAT recommendations, such as the cut and dried mandate that there should be retail only in retail spaces, and I know that JMJ is rather lax in their upkeep and upgrades for current retail and office space tenants, and because they are not interested in being an active part of this community, I have no faith in them doing what is best for my community.

Certain JMJ personnel are (from what I've been told), "old Baltimore money," one of the wealthiest families around. They have maximum financial power and political connections. They may very well contribute large amounts of money to all of the politicians who are involved in the major decisions about Dundalk's much deserved revitalization. My understanding has always been that the 2005 sale of Dundalk Shopping Center to JMJ was a vetted process—local government officials had to approve of the buyer. You can make your own sensible deductions about that deal.

There is a newly rehabbed apartment complex that sets about a mile or so from Dundalk Village up on Dundalk Avenue—Portside Apartments. They began doing government assisted rehab work on that complex a full year after JMJ began their work, and Portside is about 99% done with plenty of tenets living there. I know there are differences in all these types of projects, but I go to Dundalk Village several times a week, so I saw that for quite a while that there was no large amount of hard work being done on JMJ's project. Portside is the officially declared Baltimore City side terminus of Dundalk's renaissance, and they are successfully doing their part.

An attractive, new steetscape project for Dundalk Avenue has been completed. So when people drive from Baltimore City down Dundalk Ave., past Portside Apartments and in towards Dundalk Village, they see some very fine examples of our ongoing renaissance

Hey Mary Prankster, Here's Y'ur Blue Skies Over Dundalk There Little Darlin'

Photography by David Robert Crews

(note: This was originally posted on another blog of mine, Blue Skies Over Dundalk Maryland, on June 22, 2007.)

This building in Dundalk Village Shopping Center in Maryland was built in 1925 and it is built to last a long time. That is one great looking structure, and there is another one just like it setting there on the village main street off to the left hand side of this one. Dundalk Shopping Center is a true historical, architectural gem.

Place your mouse pointer on the photo and left click on it to enlarge it so that you can see the details and rock-solid structure of the attractive architecture much better.

When people come to this place named Dundalk, Maryland, for their first time, and they have no prejudiced, incorrect ideas muckin’ up their view of what the true nature of our nice community is, then they see its beauty and potential through clear vision. And they see that it is good place.

If you look at the left side of my photo up there on this blog entry and down into Commerce St. you will see the Village Coffee House. That dark chalkboard sign out on the sidewalk is in front of the coffee shop and that sign has a list of some of what is good inside the little eatery and local hangout (for too few patrons). I realize that it is not easy to see the coffee shop in my photo, but the point here is that there are nice shops all through both the shopping center's main and side streets. There is often live music by some pretty darn good local musicians in the Village Coffee House on Friday evenings, and there is always a rotating variety of visual media produced by fairly talented local artists and photographers displayed on its walls. And that coffee shop needs your patronage like all of the hard struggling shops in this town center do. This is the type of retail business that will do very well here in the commercial rental spaces throughout this shopping center if the new landlord there, JMJ Properties, ever gets their lousy, lame asses in gear on completing their part of the revitalization work.

This shopping center, this once vibrant main street and social center of the hard working, family oriented, fun loving, patriotic, small town American community named Dundalk is being choked to death by the self serving, self righteous, indifference and ignorance of the owners of the shopping center and far too many others to mention here in this brief outlay of the facts.

The facts that you will see here on this entire blog are that Dundalk, Maryland is a good place to live, work, shop, play, relax and enjoy life.

The former owner of Dundalk Shopping Center visited here a few months ago and walked all through the shopping center, inside and out. He had a casual conversation with several Dundalk residents, whom I see often on my frequent visits to Dundalk's Main Street. Those residents informed me that the former owner is sorry to see what is happening here and that he has inside information saying that JMJ has money troubles and can't get this rehab project done right and on time. JMJ appears to be in way over their heads financially and managerially to me and to everyone else whom I have spoken to about this who knows something about what is happening to the currently struggling, and also the recently failed, businesses in Dundalk Village today.

There was a clothing shop on Dundalk's Main Street, A&J Sportswear, which recently closed. In some of the photos on this blog, their large, white, grand opening sign is displayed out in front of the store. But due to the lack of enough retail business traffic in Dundalk Village, that shop folded in a very short time. It was the kind of business that belongs here and would do well there if JMJ would do what they are supposed to do as landlords of a shopping center.

There is a nice little jewelry store in Dundalk Village, with a real good watch repair shop in the back of it, which has been there for a long time, but it appears to have closed due to lack of business traffic in the shopping center. That store is not in a JMJ owned building, but they are a victim of JMJ's uncaring shopping center management style for sure.

Due to JMJ's piss-poor handling of their part of entire rehab project, on July 31, 2007 a lawyer named Myles F. Friedman is moving out of the Dundalk Village office space which he, and his father before him, has occupied for about as long as I can remember—and way back in 1963 I began "going up to Dundalk" quite regularly, when I was a 13 year old kid, and I have gone there often during the many years since.

In the early 1980s, I moved from Dundalk up to West Chester, Pennsylvania to work and live. When I arrived there, that town was full of empty storefronts and old unused buildings, but the townsfolk there had just begun to revitalize their main street area business district. I worked right in the middle of it all and had the pleasure of seeing that town's rebirth from a dead looking business liability to a lively, muti-faceted business district with great shops and eateries being opened all through that small town. In the same amount of time, that JMJ has been working on their part of the revitalization of Dundalk Village, during which time nothing has been done by them to enhance the business life in Dundalk Village, in that same amount of time West Chester, Pa. turned their town around from being a hopeless looking mess and into a really nice downtown area which is still that nice and active today.

The Avenue At White Marsh—which is in some ways a modern copy of a Dundalk Shopping Center—has to pay for their live entertainment that is put on to draw business traffic to the stores there. Here in Dundalk that is done by volunteer groups, who do it just because they love this place. We have concerts in Veterans Park on some summer Fridays and in Heritage Park on some summer Tuesdays and Thursdays, and then there are the music shows at the Dundalk Heritage Fair every year. The Heritage Fair is the largest fair of its kind in the United States that is put on solely by volunteers. That great community event brings in tens of thousands of people to the area each year, but few of them ever return to shop in Dundalk Village—what a waste of opportunity to create return visits. Our 4th of July Parade goes right down through Dundalk Village's Main Street, and thick crowds of people enjoy watching the parade from right there on sidewalks and in the parks along the village's main street. We have the Art Show in May in the Veteran's Park. Unfortunately, JMJ has nothing to do with any of that. They don't do a damn thing to contribute, even though it all increases the value of their investments in Dundalk and would increase those values substantially more and bring great volumes of business traffic to the village if JMJ was involved and contributed money, time and effort to putting on these wonderful, community based, family oriented events. All of those events could be used as platforms from which to promote the stores in the shopping center, but this does not happen.

JMJ does not even have to pay for the landscaping work which is done at specific seasonal intervals around Dundalk Village, because somebody here in Dundalk gets them a $10,000 grant each year to pay for that. Look at the huge overflowing flowerpots on the sidewalk up there in my photo of the shopping center—that is a nice horticultural job, which is done free for JMJ.

Baltimore County recently repaired and upgraded the curbing, sidewalks and especially the cross walks all through Dundalk Village Shopping Center. The bulk of that normal infrastructure is usually on a shopping center's private property and therefore the cost for the upkeep of that portion of the property is usually paid for by the shopping center itself. But Dundalk Shopping Center has public sidewalks and curbs and streets, so here again JMJ Properties has another set of advantages by having the county government take care of that portion of the village's infrastructure.

To see what the community is doing to make Dundalk a better place to live, work, shop and enjoy life, and which also just happens to make JMJ's investments in Dundalk worth a lot more in the future, then go follow the links over at the left of this blog listed under Other Dundalk Maryland Web Sites. There are many residents of this area who are very active in doing what is best for our community.

JMJ will probably make a lot of money off of this rehabbing deal no matter what happens. They must be paying themselves handsomely for their managerial work on the project. You all know that real estate values in Dundalk are constantly rising. So no matter how well the work is done on the rehabbing, the grant and loan monies put into the project will dramatically increase the resale value of the shopping center properties. JMJ will sell it sometime in the future—no doubt about that.

The Mary Prankster reference in the title on this blog entry is due to her infamous indie influenced cowpunk song titled, Blue Skies Over Dundalk." She may not have written, sung and recorded that song as another unwarranted put-down on this town, but it is used as one. Consequently, I am using her as a representative for all those song writers, political entities, members of the media, individuals and any groups of people setting in restaurants or at outdoor picnics or anywhere else who misrepresent what the community of Dundalk is actually like when those people, who do not know Dundalk, rudely belittle all current and former residents of Dundalk, Maryland to the point where it is socially, emotionally and financially detrimental to us.

Many people falsely believe that Dundalk is a dangerous, dirty, ugly, run down, stinking place, which "is nothing but white trash and trailer parks" (a quote overheard in a Cockeysville restaurant by a Dundalk High School English teacher ). And because so many people in this world believe so much ill conceived, insanely false, negative information about Dundalk in general, we here are fair game in the minds of too many for anyone hunting for a place or people to abuse and/or to take financial advantage of.

Disrespect for Dundalk is a fact that is fully featured in most aspects of media coverage of Dundalk. Any bad crimes committed within a couple of miles of our disputed borders is placed upon our good name. In 2003, there was a policeman murdered in front of an O'Donnell Heights bar—which is about a mile or so past the edge of Dundalk and well into Baltimore City—then for the very first time in my life O'Donnell Heights was reported far and wide as being part of Dundalk.

Conversely, when local volunteers put on our annual Dundalk Heritage Fair, which always features at least one well-known music artist or group who has earned several gold records and a Grammy or two, then the Baltimore media pays absolutely no attention to us at all.

When one of our native Dundalkians, Robert Curbeam (some of his family still lives here in Turners Station), goes up on the space shuttle then he is declared by the mass media to be from Baltimore. Even our Dundalk born and raised professional skateboarding star, Bucky Lasek, is said by all of the media outlets to be a Baltimore guy. But when a sick pup named Joseph C. Palczynski, who was not a Dundalk native or resident, came to the very outer most edge of Dundalk and made international news for a week or so by holding his ex-girlfriend's family hostage in their home there, then that was considered and reported all around the world to be what you should expect to hear about Dundalk.

A radio talk show host on a Maryland Public Radio station, WYPR, Mark Steiner, was one time having a nicely flowing conversation with local TV sports newsman Keith Mills(?) about Orioles baseball games at the old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore when they reminisced about a well known local character named Wild Bill Hagy.

Wild Bill Hagy was a Dundalk cab driver who held court as the king of all fanatic Oriole's fans and led the hearty cheers of some of the wildest and craziest and typically lowest average income earning fans at the O's games who always sat up in the cheap seats of Memorial Stadium in the old, infamous bleachers of Section 34. Mark and Keith(?) were very jovial about it all till Keith(?) said something about how rowdy the ol' internationally known and well loved Section 34 bleacher crew could get, when Mark very disparagingly quipped in with something like, "And yeah, all the crazies from Dundalk were there."

Mark Steiner is a clear thinking, fair minded, anti-prejudice, even-keeled-political-discussion-moderating radio talk show host—but that did not stop him from disrespecting Dundalk and making such a thoroughly unfair and prejudiced Dundalkphobic statement.

I steadily rely on WYPR and Mark Steiner to garner reasonably reliable information about a lot that goes on in this world, plus to enjoy the finest kind of radio entertainment, so Mark's slip of a quip about Dundalk residents, which insinuated that they were the most prevalent and aggravating presence amongst the rowdy fans of Section 34, is deeply hurtful to me. I have no way of knowing for sure, but I seriously doubt that O's fans from Dundalk made up the largest percentage of the ol' bleacher crew at Memorial Stadium. To me, this is one of the most disturbing examples of Dundalkphobic prejudices—a National Public Radio talk show host of the highest caliber uttering such a thing as, "all the crazies from Dundalk."

Dundalk is not allowed to have any good coming from it, and anything bad that is near here is dumped right on us.

Dundalkians are often loath to publicly admit that Dundalk is their hometown, because this often leads right to rude insults. It is so bad that when the native Dundalkian, Kevin Clash who is the voice of the world famous Sesame Street character Elmo, was being interviewed on Maryland Public Television he could not bring himself to say that he got his first big break into show business as a ventriloquist and puppeteer when he met Stu Kerr, the famous old king of Baltimore kid's TV, at the Dundalk Heritage Fair. When Rhea Feikin interviewed Kevin on Artworks This Week, she asked him about where he had gotten his first big break into the business, and Kevin meekly replied, "there was this heritage fair," instead of outright saying, "at the Dundalk Heritage Fair."

For the most part, everyone has given everyone else permission to thoroughly disrespect Dundalk to the point where we are considered to have no redeeming value here. We here are considered by many to be amongst the lowest forms of human life, and our community is said to be one of the worst places to live in the state of Maryland. This is a well-known and thoroughly documented phenomenon.
If you are someone who has never heard of Dundalk and you are reading this and wondering if I am making this all up in my own head, I assure that this subject is talked about daily around here and is often written about in our local newspaper, the Dundalk Eagle. There were a pair of radio disc jockeys on a Maryland radio station who went way too far with their sickening, self promoting Dundalk bashing and were forced off the air by angry Dundalkians. The former governor of Maryland, Willy Donny Shaefer, was once forced to publicly apologize for a rude, disparaging remark that he had made about Dundalk. There are numerous Dundalk citizens battling and working to overcome and eliminate those insane prejudices and rude affronts, which some number of us are faced with on any given day.

Due to those unfortunate, ignorant circumstances, the management personnel of JMJ would 'catch no flack' in any social or business setting, which they are normally in, if they were to more or less say that they are greedily taking full financial advantage of us here and not giving us what was paid for by tax payers' money.

Dundalk can overcome all of the incorrect negative images of us, which we have been painfully saddled with for decades, if our hometown is ever revitalized in accordance with the way that we were shown to do in the year 2001 by the Urban Design Assistance Team. The UDAT gave us a very comprehensive and well-researched, thoroughly studied and wonderfully created plan for our future. In order to achieve our set goals and to shake off the saddle of negativity, which we suffer under, we need JMJ to get themselves in gear and to complete the rehabbing of those great buildings in Dundalk Shopping Center.

I have lived in Dundalk for a substantial portion of my life. But I have also lived and worked in other places—like a tiny town up in the woods of Maine, on Okinawa as a US Army soldier, in famous seaside resort towns, in Baltimore City and also in several mid-sized towns. I have lived through the necessary life experiences and have traveled around enough to be able come to the fair conclusion that Dundalk is not that bad of a place to live.

Dundalk Village Shopping Center truly is a beautiful place as it is today, with its historic architecture and also the several well maintained pretty little public parks which are on two sides of it; but the insides of those buildings there need to be fully rehabbed as soon as possible. Newly restored apartments in those buildings will be able to draw new residents to those unoccupied homes. New residents will bring new and warmly welcomed life into the village. New residents will do business in the shops there. And that lively increase in residential and commercial activity in the village will attract more business traffic from all directions to the shops there. The retail shop renters there are hurtin' for those customers.

Dundalk Village Shopping Center is managed by JMJ Properties like it is strictly an investment venture, not the near 100-year-old town center of a well-established American community that it is. This bullcrap needs to stop, or there is no hope for the successful revitalization of Dundalk.

Dundalk will never once again be a vibrant community, one that is finally respected by all, until we have solid revitalization centered upon and growing outward from a fully rehabbed main street shopping district.If anyone out there can prove any of this to be false, there is a comment feature on this blog for you to openly register your opposition or rebuttals. You can also write a letter to the Dundalk Eagle Newspaper, and maybe they will publish it for you.