Every day, Keondra Prier passes an 8-acre vacant lot in the Reservoir Hill community that was once home to a subsidized apartment complex dubbed “Murder Mall.”
Prier, who is president of the Reservoir Hill Community Association, said there is “a deep desire, hope and wish” for the Madison Park North property to be turned into a resourceful and appealing space.
Neighbors may soon get their wish.
A celebration on Thursday marked the long-awaited groundbreaking for the Madison Park North project, which is overseen by MCB Real Estate. The first phase of the project will include construction of 120 townhomes and green space. The planned development is in the 700 block of North Avenue, on the Reservoir Hill side bordering Bolton Hill.
P. David Bramble, a co-founder and managing partner at MCB Real Estate, said prior to the event that it has taken a lot of time, energy and dollars to get to this point.
When plans for the project were revealed in 2020, Bramble told The Baltimore Sun that it represented a “major capital investment” of more than $100 million in the neighborhood. Bramble told The Baltimore Banner that the community hasn’t seen this level of financial investment in a long time. He said the project is important to Madison Park, where he’s spent his entire life. But he acknowledged it has been a time-consuming process.
“You always want it to move faster, but you really have to take time with the communities and take time with planning. You have all kinds of things that have to be figured out before you can get going on something of this scale,” he said.
At Thursday’s groundbreaking ceremony, dozens of people gathered at the vacant lot, greeted by large photos that included an aerial view of the property and a preview of what the complex is expected to look like. Mayor Brandon Scott addressed the crowd and stressed how eager folks have been for the project to move forward.
“Those of us from West Baltimore know how big of a deal this is,” Scott said.
Construction was expected to begin about 10 months ago, but the pandemic, inflation, and the need to obtain certain permits pushed construction back. Bramble credited the firm’s partners and community support with helping to smooth the way.
Reservoir Hill is a “community on the rise,” Bramble said recently, and the development is a “gateway project” that will get people excited about how they can access West Baltimore.
Residents of Reservoir Hill and the surrounding neighborhoods remembered, or had heard about, the notorious reputation of the former Madison Park North apartment complex. Built in the 1970s, it became known as “Murder Mall” because of the drug deals, shootings and other crimes that occurred there.
Baltimore housing officials and other advocates tried for years to push out the previous owner of the apartment complex, but they were met with challenges in court, according to a 2014 Baltimore Sun article. A settlement was reached that year and the last resident moved out in 2015. The complex was razed two years later.
The site was vacated before Baltimore-based MCB got involved with the project, Bramble said. The developer saw it as an opportunity to bring something “transformative” to the neighborhood.
“It’s not gonna get better unless we invest in it,” Bramble said. “Unless we make economic development a critical goal, this is not going to work.” The townhomes are expected to be completed in early 2025.
Baltimore neighborhoods, Bramble said at the ceremony, “have their best days ahead of them.”
Multiple meetings and other forms of community engagement made clear that homeownership opportunities and a grocery store were attractive features for any future developments. Phase 2 of the project, Bramble said, will hopefully include grocery-anchored retail with apartments above, as well as possibly more apartments or office space.
Prier said there’s a lot of excitement about the project, but that it’s also been met with skepticism by some. Oftentimes, what a developer promises is not what actually ends up being built, she said.
“I hope the promise of what this development is supposed to be will pan out,” she said.
Prier also wants there to be open communication about the construction process. So far, she said, MCB Real Estate’s communication about the project has been “OK.” While construction brings new developments to a community, she said, it can also disrupt the everyday lives of residents. The complex’s construction will overlap with work being done on Druid Park Lake Drive that has led to road closures and motorists being redirected. She said it’s important to inform residents about the project’s processes and any updates or changes along the way.
“People feel empowered when they’re told about what’s happening around them,” Prier said.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with details from Thursday’s groundbreaking