Saturday, June 23, 2012

Cardinal Gibbons Shopping Center

  As my long awaited conclusion to my Wilkens Avenue series comes to a conclusion, this post I'm sure will garner much controversy and or criticism. Trust me when I say I don't enjoy igniting people's feelings of ill will towards me, I do however enjoy the freedom of sharing my ideas to the community as a whole whether or not they agree with me. So with that little tidbit out of the way hows about we get down to business?

In 2010 after years of rumors, Cardinal Gibbons School closed. Cardinal Gibbons, located at the southeastern corner of Wilkens Avenue and Caton Avenue was a community staple all throughout the Greater Baltimore Community with students coming near and far for a fully integrated Roman Catholic Education since 1962. Although Baltimore and surrounding Counties remain a Catholic strong hold, the numbers of said families who could afford a Private School Education has been dwindling. With Cardinal Gibbons and Schools like it losing population Cardinal Gibbons closed in 2010.
This closure was not taken with a grain of salt. Alumni young and old took it upon themselves to save Cardinal Gibbons and given that Social Networking was already popular, their was heard far and near. What was I doing at that time? I was doing the same thing I am today, looking for new ideas to provide population and job growth for Baltimore City. My ideas for Wilkens Avenue differed back then but the goal remains the same; population and job growth which will allow for a higher quality of life and lower occurrence of crime and drug use that has had a grip on the Community for far too long.
Back then I had thought and in some cases still do think that massive redevelopment and gentrification is the only way to breathe new life into Communities that are struggling. Like I said before there are still Neighborhoods where I believe that to be true, I believed it to be true for Wilkens Avenue but not anymore. Seeing as how that was the case in Baltimore with the Harbor and the Biotech Parks. With the closing of Cardinal Gibbons becoming more and more of a Reality I developed a redevelopment plan for the area that involved the site of the School, the adjacent St. Agnes Hospital and nearby struggling Neighborhoods such as Mill Hill and Carrolton Ridge. A third Biotech Park in Baltimore this time developed by St. Agnes was to be located across Caton Avenue from the Hospital and would have the same sweeping redevelopment efforts currently taking place in East Baltimore as a result of the Hopkins Biotech Park.
After I wrote and published that post, critics and supporters alike rejected the idea inserting reality into the picture such as the fact that St. Agnes doesn't have the financial resources that Hopkins does, there are better uses for the now vacant Cardinal Gibbons School, and that gentrifying Wilkens Avenue in that respect would price out those living in the Community I was trying to "help." Sometimes criticism of what I write doesn't phase but this time it did so I challenged myself to go back to the drawing board and come up with a better plan that would make Wilkens Avenue a better version of what it already is; A diverse working class Community for affordable housing. Instead of running away from that notion I decided to celebrate it.
With that came this series of posts, one that focused on how the Neighborhood of Gwynns Falls has fared quite well compared to its Neighbors such as Mill Hill, Carrolton Ridge and Mount Clare, another that established "Districts" of affordable for purchase housing with each district being for a different working class trade such as Hospitality, Retail, Emergency Services, Education etc. Finally I decided to pilot a green building program in for Wilkens Avenue that would eventually sweep across the City as a whole.

Now comes the issue of Cardinal Gibbons, it does have to be put back to productive use just like the rest of Wilkens Avenue. Just like when I had envisioned it as a Biotech Park the School Building must be preserved along with its impressive facade. So what does the Wilkens Avenue Community lack? Retail and Apartments. The closure of the Mount Clare Junction Safeway and the failure of that Shopping Center as a whole has left Wilkens Avenue looking for a good Neighborhood Shopping Center ever since. As a result, Residents have had to leave the City and shop at the Giant on Wilkens Avenue in Arbutus near I-695.

I have proposed that the Gwynns Falls Community Center be expanded to mirror the amenities of a regional park so keep that in mind when I say that the athletic fields of the now defunct Cardinal Gibbons School are a surplus and aren't good fit for the Community. A big reason this is true is because it's located on Caton Avenue which is very busy between Wilkens Avenue and I-95. A more centralized Shopping Center than Mount Clare Junction should be the crown and jewel of Wilkens Avenue. The intersection of Wilkens Avenue is probably one of the heaviest traveled intersections in SoWeoBo which is something Retailers look for selecting a site to operate their business.

A new clean Grocery Store must anchor the new Center that will take its  name from Cardinal Gibbons, the School whose ball fields once stood at this very site. Although not a bargain store like Stop Shop & Save Murray's a new Grocer coming to Wilkens Avenue must pay careful attention to the financial constraints of the Neighborhood as well. In short that means high end Grocers like Trader Joe's might be out of most people's budget. Shop Rite, Food Lion, and Weis are a better fit. Other Retailers should include a Dry Cleaner, Bank, Restaurants, a Senior Center, and other convenience based Retailers that will serve the Community without being trashy.
 As for the School building that has been the namesake for Cardinal Gibbons? I think it should still be used for Archdiocese of Baltimore. I've never done a faith based idea before and given that Cardinal Gibbions School has been near and dear to Baltimore for so many years, it shouldn't be sold or converted to something else or demolished. I'm proposing perhaps Catholic Housing (for those in need) or a School for those looking to join the Priesthood. The Building whatever use the Archdiocese has in mind it should still bare the name Cardinal Gibbons.
 Wilkens Avenue needs to go through a large transformation to be the affordable housing magnet it needs to be. Cardinal Gibbons was always a landmark for Wilkens Avenue in its heyday and I think a revitalized Wilkens Avenue calls for an equally revitalized Cardinal Gibbons School in whatever capacity must be its crown & jewel. It's been a real treat focusing on Wilkens Avenue and writing this series. Stay tuned!