Long before construction begins on the $1.6 billion State Center project in Baltimore, the local group Community Churches United for Baltimore Jobs said Nov. 22 it wants to make it clear that the project must provide economic benefits to those living in and around the area.

Rev. Alvin C. Hathaway of Union Baptist Church, Pastor Lester McCorn of Pennsylvania Ave AME Zion Church and Rev. Todd Yeary led a demonstration about the project and the need for local benefits. The major construction project is set to begin in early 2011, and Baltimore planning officials hope it will help to revitalize a large slice of the central part of the city.

“The state anticipates that the first phase of the project will create 1,600 construction jobs,” Hathaway said. “We then said and demanded that the state, the developer and those involved would provide and agree to 50 percent of those jobs going to people who live within the two zip codes .”

Hathaway said if there wasn’t enough demand for jobs in the immediate area, then the target area for jobs should be expanded to a two-mile radius surrounding the center—and if that still wasn’t good enough, they would expand to the entire city.

Hathaway and his supporters met with the state and developers on Oct. 27, but he felt that his concerns were put on the back burner after that meeting. He said that the developers and state had met with some community leaders, but none like the church community who had their “ears to the street.” So he asked for another meeting and, this time, he wanted to bring the entire community with him.

“We had interviews and provided orientation to over 2,300 people who lived in this community,” Hathaway said. “So we called out to these people and asked them to participate in the March and we had over 800 people meet at Union Baptist Church.”

They trained the people on peaceful demonstrations and proceeded to the march.

After the meeting, the developers and state agreed to work with Hathaway on three key issues: they will work to include neighborhood residents in the project, they will include the faith-based community in any decisions revolving around the project and they will investigate any study done on the possible it’s economic impact.

Hathaway said he’d received numerous calls already from developers concerning residents available to work. Hathaway was able to give them answers because he’d already placed the residents in categories according to their skill level. He said out of the 2,300 originally surveyed, there were 275 journeymen laborers who are ready to work right now.

Hathaway is pleased with the developments and said that the agreement proves that people can achieve a measure of change when they mobilize.

“It was an example of a collective action on the part of the residents who wish to be a part of the job,” he said.

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO