By Karen anderson
BALTIMORE – Four hundred perennials aren’t cheap and they’re not likely to come from any city budget, but Latrobe Park in Locust Point is filled with them.
In a time of recession, to pay for its “dream of year-round color” in the park’s landscape, members of the community’s beautification committee didn’t solicit their city councilman. Instead, they looked to their neighbors, who in turn donated money, manpower and time to organize, write grant requests and perform feats of manual labor.
And it paid off.
While Baltimore’s Department of Parks and Recreation trimmed its spending this spring and plans to cut more over the summer, the Baltimore Parks and People Foundation granted Locust Point $15,000 for Latrobe Park.
The grant money will go toward restoring the original vision of the park designed in 1903 by Frederick Law Olmstead, whom the National Parks Service recognizes as “the founder of landscape architecture and the nation’s foremost parkmaker.”
Charlie Newcome, the community’s beautification committee chair, drafted historic-minded plans for the park and then invited residents to help plant 400 perennials and other flowering plants. On April 18, nearly 25 local volunteers helped create 20 new flower beds in the spirit of Olmstead’s design.
“Charlie and his committee have been the driving force for the grant request,” said Cheryl Duffey, board member of the Locust Point Civic Association and landscape volunteer. “The park’s gone through a lot of dramatic changes in the last five years.”
Latrobe Park is just one piece of Locust Point enhanced in recent years by sources other than the city budget.
The community has insulated itself from shifts in government funds by building on a foundation of active citizenship, such as volunteerism and fundraisers to pay for projects.
Much of the neighborhood’s funding has come from area developers, who became more interested in the community in this decade.
Located on a peninsula in south Baltimore, Locust Point flows neatly off East Fort Avenue, the street that leads to historic Fort McHenry. The city’s iconic Domino’s Sugar sign sits in the backdrop of the neighborhood’s rowhouse-lined streets.
Now from everywhere in the community one can also see signs of new development.
Baltimore’s The Daily Record wrote in March of 2005, “Locust Point (…) is among the latest, predominantly blue-collar, Baltimore neighborhoods being jolted awake by an obsession with building near the water.”
“Obviously the development was for higher-end residential units, so it changed that demographic,” said Delegate Brian McHale, who represents the neighborhood in the Maryland State House. “For a community that was a majority of blue-collar workers, now more higher-end professionals have moved into the community.”
The successful developments have allowed newcomers to share space with lifetime residents.
“I met a lady — I think her name was Caroline — she has one of those new condominiums in the grain elevator,” said Chuck Walker, 68, a lifetime resident of Locust Point as he recalled meeting a new neighbor who had recently moved into the luxury condominiums at Silo Point. “I was reluctant to tell her that as a child we used to go there with sticks and hunt rats.”
Silo Point, the restored shell of a B&O Railroad grain terminal, advertises to those who have “always envisioned (themselves) living in unparalleled luxury.” In the 24-story tower, prices range from $260,000 for a one-bedroom condominium unit to $4 million for a penthouse.
“When they reclaim something it benefits everybody. What they did at Silo Point, it’s beautiful. I don’t think anybody has a problem with that,” said Hap Duffey who moved to Locust Point with his wife, Cheryl, after their son moved there.
The Turner Development Group spent $170 million to build Silo Point and, as a welcome gift to the Locust Point community, offered to restore the bath house in Latrobe Park. Some estimate the project may cost about $250,000.
“Whenever a developer is going to come into a community, it’s a lot of pressure. It’s not unusual for the community to say, ‘Hey can you help us with our project?'” said Colleen Martin-Lauer, who is in charge of fundraising for the Locust Point community group. “So we encourage them to help the community. I mean they’re our neighbors.”
Tony Vittoria, president of the Locust Point Civic Association, said the group has a task force to work with each of the community’s three big developers, whom he identified as Mark Sapperstein of McHenry Row, Bill Struever of Tide Point, and Patrick Turner of the Turner Development Group at Silo Point.
McHale said the city takes care of everyday services such as street maintenance, schools, and trash pickup, so the civic association can focus on the park, its playground equipment, and other beautification efforts “because it’s something everyone can utilize and enjoy.”
“The city can’t really afford to fix the bath house,” Martin-Lauer said. “For us to try to raise $200,000 or $400,000… that would be a huge project. So we asked the developer to do that, and he said, ‘Yeah.'”
“Ultimately the bath house (…) just wouldn’t have gotten done without the contributions of the developers,” said Vittoria. “I guess these things would never have been thought of as being possible if we didn’t have these other avenues.”
Similarly, Sapperstein’s McHenry Row development recently agreed to make an annual donation of $10,000 to the Locust Point Civic Association for the next 20 years. Vittoria described it in the community newsletter as “a gesture of goodwill to the community.”
This pledge would double the civic association’s operating budget, which projected $10,000 in spending for 2009.
Vittoria wrote in the community newsletter that the donation was promised verbally after “the Civic Association (gave) conditional support for a minor amendment to the Chesapeake Paperboard/McHenry Row Planned Unit Development, which simply allows the developer to make commercial use of already-existing bottom floors of buildings.”
McHenry Row also recently contributed $24,000 to the community’s new dog park to be built in the southeast corner of Latrobe Park, according to Martin-Lauer.
Much of the civic association’s budget, she added, comes from the annual fall festival that is run largely with donations from local businesses, such as Phillips Seafood, as well as developers.
The community association has “approximately $28,500 in the bank,” according to the LPCA 2009 budget available at the organization’s Web site, mylocustpoint.com.
The organization’s treasurer, Teresa Alcorn, said the festival earns about $10,000 in a good year.
Though she expects businesses may not be able to contribute as much this year as in years past, Alcorn is confident that with the right weather the festival can still be a success.
“We’re definitely cognizant of the fact that we’re not going to get the corporate donations this year that we’ve gotten in the past,” Alcorn said. “But we can have a very nice fundraiser if we have nice weather.
“Most of the money we make at the festival comes from selling beer, and to some lesser degree food. If it’s a nice, sunny, 70-degree day, we can make $5,000 or $6,000 just on the beer truck…. With that in mind, all we can do is pray.”
If the festival is unsuccessful, Alcorn said the Locust Point Civic Association could hold a winter fundraiser to make up for the loss in revenue.
And the group gives some of its money to the needy.
“Last year, we donated about $6,800, and this year, we’ve budgeted $5,500 for charitable contributions,” Alcorn said.
One of the association’s biggest recipients is the South Baltimore Emergency Relief (SOBER), an advocacy group and food co-operative. Anticipating need, the Locust Point Civic Association plans to give more in donations this year.
“We decided to allocate a higher percentage of our budget to charitable contributions this year than last year due to the economic conditions. We figured that charities like SOBER will need more help this year, not less.”