Nostalgia overwhelms conversations about the Edmondson Village Shopping Center among certain residents of the West Baltimore neighborhood. The strip mall is a far cry from the bowling alley, Hess Shoes with live monkeys in the storefront window and movie theater that were once there.
But now it’s one step closer to redevelopment and turning it again into something where residents want to go.
After a nearly two year process, a Chicago-based developer has gathered enough signatures to amend certain parts of a restrictive 1945 covenant and moved forward with the purchase and development of the shopping center. Chicago TREND has plans for an at least $20 million overhaul of the shopping center with hopes to attract a grocery store and nationally recognized coffee shop and casual restaurant.
“There is an opportunity to do something nationally noteworthy and benefit people at the local level by having better goods and services,” said Lyneir Richardson, Chicago TREND CEO.
Richardson said they plan to begin repairs, renovation and modernization of the existing buildings as soon as October. The goal is to begin site work in the summer of 2024 and for construction to be completed in 2025.
“When you talk about things in your career that you’re proud about, this is one of them,” Richardson said
The signatures didn’t nix the entire covenant, but will eliminate parts that Richardson said were restrictive to redevelopment, including restrictions to multi-use residential buildings, architectural design, signage and setback restrictions related to Edmondson Avenue. There was also a request to remove a part of the covenant that, though unenforceable, restricted occupancy of the land by “any Negro or person of Negro extractions” unless they were a servant. The covenant is the reason a side-by-side photo of the shopping center today and in 1947 is virtually unchanged. The center still has the same Colonial Williamsburg-inspired aesthetic.
The covenant puts restrictions on parcels of land in parts of the Rognel Heights neighborhood, including on Rokeby Road between Swann Avenue and Walnut Avenue and between Seminole Avenue and Gelston Drive.
The city, which committed over $7 million to the redevelopment project and supports amending the covenant, owns six properties that fall within the covenant’s reach, including an Enoch Pratt Free Library branch on Edmondson Avenue. A majority of property owners needed to sign an agreement in order for it to be amended.
Many residents didn’t even know the area was under a covenant and misunderstood what exactly amending parts of it would do. This made the process of getting signatures a challenging feat for Chicago TREND, who held community meetings to inform people. Richardson said they found better success having one-on-one meetings with residents.
Garrick Hines Sr., who’s lived behind the shopping center since 2010, said he felt a need to mitigate the spread of misinformation about the covenant. He said some people were under the impression that their property would be taken by developers if they signed the document. Hines helped organize meetings so neighborhoods could better understand and assisted with getting signatures, he said. Hines also took advantage of the investment opportunity in the shopping center. A crowdfunding campaign was launched for residents and others to co-own the shopping center with at least a $1,000 investment.
Chicago TREND offered the same investment opportunity for their other Baltimore property, Walbrook Junction, which they’ve owned since 2021.
Hines said his choice to live in the neighborhood and invest in the shopping center can “be an example that just because you are considered successful doesn’t mean you need to move out to the suburbs and buy a big house.”
Redevelopment is just one part to the overall success of the shopping center, according to Hines, who said young people are key.
“The youth are the gateway to this shopping center in that we have to meet them where they are and lift them up in order for this shopping center to be successful,” he said.
Hines and other residents also reiterated the need to prioritize safety and security in the shopping center.
In January, Deanta Dorsey, 16, was killed and four other teenage boys were injured in a shooting outside a Popeyes restaurant at the shopping center, which is across the street from Edmondson-Westside High School. The Baltimore Banner found that though serious crimes dropped significantly in recent years, crime is still a constant reality for the shopping center and some of the immediate areas around it.
Richardson said he expects several things to work together to ensure the safety and security at the shopping center: People that care and have an ownership stake, investing in local property management, on-site security, an active relationship with the police department, and investment in youth entrepreneurship and violence prevention programs.
Over the next three to five years, the vision of the shopping center will become a reality and “everybody wants to see the dream come to fruition,” Richardson said.
Jai Joyce, a life long resident of Edmondson Village, said she is looking forward to seeing the ripple effect she hopes the revitalization of the shopping center will have on the neighborhood.
“It’s time for the village to come home … It’s time to bring life back to the village,” she said.