Kenny Noel is relatively new to his home off West North Avenue, but with some investment — and teamwork — he thinks his new neighborhood has a lot of promise.
It wouldn’t hurt, for instance, to be able to walk to a grocery store.
Unbeknownst to Noel, an effort is already taking place in West Baltimore.
The West North Avenue Development Authority was created by legislators in 2021 and tasked with the responsibility of redeveloping and revitalizing areas along the road between North Hilton Street and Interstate 83. Through collaborations with anchor institutions, politicians and community organizations, the authority is prioritizing housing, economic development and transportation to revamp West North Avenue.
“When people start investing, positive things happen. People aren’t gonna put money behind failed projects,” Noel said.
Governor Wes Moore awarded the authority $11.4 million earlier this month, signaling to many the critical state and local support they say is necessary for revitalization efforts. At least $1.4 million will go toward additional staffing for the authority. The other $10 million is allocated for several different projects.
Chad Williams, executive director of the authority, said they went through over a dozen plans for neighborhoods along West North Avenue. The goal is to compile one strategic plan to present to the General Assembly in December and then decide on the timeframe to complete what’s proposed.
Williams said political will is important in revitalization efforts. He’s been doing this kind of work for at least 20 years and said he has seen great ideas fall flat because of a lack of political support. The authority now has that and plenty of partnerships in the community, he said. Williams is looking forward to “giving people hope and opportunity in West Baltimore so that they can continue to live, stay and invest in their neighborhoods.”
The authority includes two anchor institutions — Coppin State University and Maryland Institute College of Art. The President of Coppin State University is the chair of the authority and there are also members from different agencies, including the mayor’s office, Baltimore City Department of Transportation, and Baltimore Development Corporation.
Sen. Antonio Hayes and Del. Marlon Amprey, both Democrats, spearheaded legislation that established the authority. Hayes said the idea came after a walking tour and a mention that there were so many separate plans for the area, but it would be great to have just one.
“With this initiative it really takes those two entities, local and state, merging their efforts together to bring about the type of change communities want to see,” Hayes said.
Hayes added that the authority is supporting a lot of work that started before it existed. To ensure community-focused projects are moving along without major delays, the authority is exempt from parts of the state’s procurement law, Hayes said.
One target area the authority is focusing on includes the Entrepreneurs Making and Growing Enterprises (E.M.A.G.E.) Center, which opened in 2021 and houses several different social enterprises, including Frozen Desert Sorbet and a clothing line called Made in B-More Clothing.
Rasheed Aziz, the executive director of Citywide Youth Development, which runs the center, said the plan was always to expand and, with the authority’s help, they’ll be able to do so and provide more manufacturing and entrepreneurship opportunities to young people.
“We have very little development in our community, little opportunity for people to see individuals that have made it and are coming back to the community to build and develop,” he said.
There are also other projects unfolding along the corridor. Madison Park North, a project overseen by MCB Real Estate, is expected to bring 120 townhomes and green space near Jones Falls Expressway. A food hall, Mill on the North, is in the works near Coppin State University.
Coppin State University President Anthony Jenkins said West North Avenue is an opportunity for historically Black colleges to continue to be bold and set the blueprint for others to pursue similar ventures. There’s a chance to positively impact the “quality of life ecosystem,” he said, including housing for Coppin State employees and students as part of a program to encourage living near where you work or attend school.
Maryland will never reach its potential if there isn’t a strong Baltimore, Jenkins said.
Concerns about displacement have been brought up, but the authority reiterated that the aim is for residents to benefit from investment and development on West North Avenue, Jenkins said. They’ve also had to explain that revitalization will take time, but people should already start to see plans and projects moving.
“As long as I am here, as long as I’m part of this, this is real. Coppin State University will not hitch its wagon to hope and pipe dreams that are not going to be fulfilled,” Jenkins said.