Organization Tries to Bring Baltimore’s Penn and North Back from Brink

by: Deborah Bailey Special to the AFRO
/ Maria Thompson (Courtesy photo) /
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Maria Thompson, President of Coppin State University, was on hand to announce the Coppin’s Science and Technology Center. (Courtesy photo)

Last April, the CVS standing atop the MTA metro Station at Penn North Plaza became a nationally televised symbol of Baltimore’s chaotic unrest in the wake of Freddie Gray’s detainment by Baltimore police and subsequent death.  But on MLK Day 2016, the drug store and Plaza served as markers of hope as organizers of Baltimore’s Innovation Village announced the new project from a platform at the Plaza.

A contingent of politicians, public figures, university officials and community activists came to lend their support to a partnership seeking to revitalize West Baltimore.  “Innovation Village represents a strong community collaboration that fuels an ambitious agenda by West Baltimore residents who have resolved to do great things,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to about 100 west Baltimore residents who stood in the cold to hear some good news about their community.

The Baltimore Innovation Village is a cooperative effort sponsored by the Mount Royal Community Development Corporation (MRCDC) in collaboration with Coppin State University and the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) as well as other community and business partners.  Founded on the model of community-driven improvement, Baltimore joins cities such as Boston, Philadelphia and Detroit in utilizing Innovation Districts in an attempt to restore urban areas plagued by long standing blight and neglect.   Richard May, one of three co-founders of Innovation Village stressed that Innovation Village is an effort initiated by residents of the West Baltimore community and for the good of the West Baltimore Community.

“We addressed the issue of gentrification right at the beginning” said May. ”We do not agree with a displacement model at all.  The greatest advantage that these neighborhoods have is that they have a soul.  They have a cultural underpinning” May said.

The Innovation Village initiative hopes to attract businesses and entrepreneurs that can help stabilize the more economically vulnerable West Baltimore neighborhoods. “We have sought out conscious developers with a commitment to the community and we will turn as many existing residents as are interested into entrepreneurs”, said May.  Innovation Village’s goal is to stabilize existing West Baltimore communities while reinvigorating the heritage and culture that made West Baltimore home to nationally known artists and pioneers such as Billie Holiday and Thurgood Marshall.  “The more residents that become entrepreneurs, the more stable communities become” he said.

The anchor institutions selected for the project, Coppin State University and the Maryland Institute College of Art were based on the community asset model utilized by MRCDC.  “The opening of Coppin’s Science and Technology Center will strengthen innovation in West Baltimore;   Innovation Village leverages the resources of our community and taps into the talents of many to create entrepreneurial and economic opportunities that ultimately benefit all of Baltimore,” said Maria Thompson, President of Coppin State University.

A steering committee will be appointed from the community to develop a 90 day plan to move the innovation District forward. The Innovation District spans close to 7 miles from Druid Hill Park on the North end to MLK Boulevard on the South and from Mondawmin Mall on the West to Penn Station on the East. Brioxy and Dovecote Cafe are two of the new businesses launched by the Innovation Village. Startup Soiree will host its kickoff even on January 27th followed by the Innovation Village’s formal grand opening reception on Jan. 30th.

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