At the West Baltimore police station where fed-up residents confronted police last April, local business leaders see room for a playground and a food truck. What is currently a locked-down building with mirrored windows soon will offer public space for community programs.
The plans are part of a $2.4 million project poised to get underway after expected approval by the Board of Estimates this week, said a group led by former Under Armour executive Scott Plank and regional Wells Fargo president Andrew Bertamini. Built in the 1950s, the Western District station is one of the most dilapidated of the city’s nine police stations. Five officers assigned to the district were among the six charged in the arrest and subsequent death of Freddie Gray, which prompted several nights of protests outside the station. Already a fortress-like building, police placed jersey walls around it — some of which remain today — and erected a fence around the parking lot. Changes to the facade shown in an artist’s rendering, however, will make the building look more like a library.
“Fundamentally, our police stations should serve their most important customer — the residents of Baltimore,” Plank, who runs the Baltimore development company War Horse, said in a statement. “With an updated floor plan, which includes safe public spaces and a community reflection garden, the Western District can invite the community into their ‘house’ to build positive non-enforcement interactions while protecting the security and discretion of the officers.”
“We need something,” said Kevin Judkins, 48. “I’m all for it if it can enhance the neighborhood.”
Donnell Wells, 18, who was grabbing food at a nearby carryout with his uncle, said he hoped the community space could “help keep kids out of trouble.” Inez Robb, president of the Western District Police Community Relations Council, praised the effort. “So many people are coming together to help empower residents and rebuild community-police relations,” Robb said in a statement. “It is just what the community needs moving forward to a more equitable Baltimore.” Others on social media lamented that such substantial funding was going toward a police building.
“Building new police stations and jails faster than they’re building schools,” the activist Kwame Rose wrote on Twitter.
Funding for the project comes primarily from the JS Plank and DM DiCarlo Family Foundation, the Baltimore Ravens, Under Armour, Wells Fargo, the Warnock Foundation, Maggie and Reed Cordish, BGE, St. Agnes Hospital, Comcast and the Abell Foundation. In a news release, the businesses said they want to see the police station become “a cornerstone for community empowerment and positive social interaction between officers and residents on the west side.”
Tisha Edwards, the former interim city schools CEO, who now works with War Horse, said the project was in the planning stages prior to the unrest that followed Gray’s death, which prompted the business leaders to rethink and strengthen the project’s community aspects, she said.
The Western District upgrade will occur within the existing footprint of the 60-year-old police station. The intent is to duplicate the improvements at other run-down police districts. The plan “needed to be reasonable. It’s a very old building, and if you try to do everything in the building and start from scratch, it’s too hard to raise the money,” Edwards said. “Most importantly, we want this police station to be a prototype — we want to get others done too.” Edwards said the project is “shovel-ready” following $300,000 in upgrades performed by the city, including asbestos removal, renovated flooring and HVAC upgrades. It would be completed in about six months.
The improvements include:
Secure locker rooms and “updated restrooms that reflect gender diversity;”
Dedicated conference rooms to conduct interviews and upgraded training space and equipment;
Public space for “flexible community programming,” including public parking spaces.
Outdoor seating, free Wi-Fi access and a safe play area in front of the station for neighborhood use.
“Hopefully, we’re getting to a point where other businesses, other foundations join the effort,” she said. ”We’re excited about the facility, but also excited about the conversations and relationships that have developed as a result of this process.”