On a vacant parcel less than a mile from its campus, Coppin State University commenced the first phase of a revitalization project over 10 years in the making. The venture calls for streetscraping, infill development and an investment in human capital to revive the Coppin-Heights neighborhood. The school even created a non-profit—the Coppin-Heights Community Development Corporation—to oversee the effort in 1995.

City leaders and stakeholders celebrated the first phase—construction of three units and the restoration of one home—at a groundbreaking ceremony on the proposed site Jan. 10. The structures will rise on the 2700 block of West North Ave. later this year, and the rehabbed home will be operable within 120 days, according to CHCDC officials.

The non-profit has partnered with the city for the “Vacants to Value” project, an effort to expedite the sale of vacant properties throughout the city. Under the program, the city will hand over properties it acquires from negligent landowners in the Coppin Heights neighborhood to CHCDC for rehabilitation.

“The best days of this community are ahead,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said at the groundbreaking. “One neighborhood at a time, we are getting stronger. We are protecting and preserving neighborhoods.”

Coppin also has support at the state level. Sen. Catherine Pugh and Dels. Barbara Robinson and Shawn Tarrant, all representatives of the Coppin district, are proposing a $140,000 bond bill supporting property acquisition for the next stage of the project.

Robinson, a Coppin graduate, said the school is “at the forefront of approving the quality of life for the people around it.”

City Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano called the revitalization plan “immeasurable.” “This is about the rebirth of a community. We (the city) have a job to do and we are committed to doing it with you.”

The CHCDC envisions not only a physical makeover of blighted homes in the North Avenue corridor but also the economic development, job training and home ownership of the residents within them, said CHCDC officials. In addition to developing edifices, the group hosts financial literacy courses, foreclosure prevention workshops and parenting classes for residents at nearby schools and other venues.

“The (CHCDC) is really poised to make something new happen in these neighborhoods, and what you are going to see along North Avenue are the beginnings of that,” said CHCDC director Gary Rodwell. “You are going to see some new energy and pretty soon you are going to see bookstores, eateries and restaurants along North Avenue…We are really excited about the direction in which we are going.”

The next stage of the renaissance plan includes construction of seven student and public dwellings on the same North Avenue block. Over an estimated 10 years, the project will expand development to the Gwynns Falls Parkway to the north, Monroe Avenue to the east, Franklin Street to the south and Hilton Parkway to the west.


Shernay Williams

Special to the AFRO