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
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1 comment:

JH said...

David,

Great posting, and the pictures you took of the homes on the ships and on Dunglow were absolutely incredible!

Keep up the great work!

Jordan