By Deborah Bailey, Special to the AFRO

Signs of new life are stirring at Havenwood Road in Northeast Baltimore week. Developers for  Northwood Commons, Morgan State University, and the local community celebrated the groundbreaking, Nov. 1, for the long-awaited Northwood Commons Project, in a high energy, white-tent ceremony at the shopping center this week.

“This morning gives me a ray of hope,” said Paula Purviance, president of the Hillen Road Community Improvement Association to an excited audience of community members, students, university administrators and elected officials.

Community members, elected officials, project developers and Morgan State University leaders at groundbreaking ceremony for Northwood Commons. (Photos Courtesy of Morgan State University)

Purviance reflected on the many transitions the neighborhood experienced as the current shopping complex, bounded by the Hillen, Original Northwood and New Northwood neighborhoods continued to decline.  The Hillen Road Association was one of a cluster of stakeholders including Morgan State University, Baltimore City and the State of Maryland  who jointly conceptualized the Northwood Commons concept said Mark Renbaum, managing partner of MLR Partners.

The $50 million redevelopment of the former Northwood Plaza Shopping Center will feature 100,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space and an additional 20,000 square feet of office space. Morgan State has signed a lease for 11,000 square feet of space for shops including a Barnes and Noble College Bookstore. The University’s public safety department is also expected to move to the site.

“Morgan State University is proud to serve as an anchor institution in the city of Baltimore and is strongly committed to the surrounding community.  Northwood Commons will expand upon that commitment, creating a vital retail center that fulfills a number of needs for the university and the residents of northeast Baltimore,” reflected Morgan State President David Wilson.

The existing shopping center will be completely demolished within the next 18-24 months for the new development that will sit adjacent to Morgan’s Northwood Campus, home of the Earl. G. Graves School of Business and Martin D. Jenkins Behavioral and Social Sciences Center. The project is projected for completion in 2021.

Baltimore native P. David Bramble, managing partner of MCB Real Estate will lead the redevelopment project in collaboration with  MLR Partners and the center’s owner, Northwood Shopping Center Partnership.  Bramble became emotional at the thought of leading work that will transform a community in his own backyard.

“It’s only so often that you get to be part of an impactful project in your own hometown,” he said. “We want you to come back to this place in a couple of years and be amazed at what we’ve done,” Bramble added.

As the ceremony ended and residents walked back to their homes, hope lingered in the atmosphere.

“People were ready for a change.  I think having the vision of the president of Morgan, good council people and other elected officials who helped along the way helped us make the change,” said Cheryl Reese, long-time community resident and Morgan alumnae.

“I remember the old neighborhood.  It’s been a long time. This change has been a long time coming,” said Michael Singleton, who has lived on Lock Raven street for more than 20 years. “This is going to transform the community in a positive direction,” Singleton said.