A neighborhood meeting in Northwest Baltimore to discuss a new supermarket opened with soft organ music and bowed heads, demonstrating the importance of such a facility to a community that has done without one for more than a decade.
"We pray this night for this area, called Howard Park, in particular," the Rev. Donald Sterling said Friday at the pulpit in New All Saints Catholic Church, off Liberty Heights Avenue. On either side of the altar were displayed plans for a 68,000-square-foot state-of-the-art grocery store with more than 200 parking spaces.
The Klein family, owners of the Forest Hill-based Klein's Family Markets, came to an agreement last week with the Baltimore Development Corp. to build a new ShopRite supermarket in the neighborhood, said Jeffrey Brown, founder of the nonprofit UpLift Solutions Inc., which works to put grocery stores in underserved communities and is partnering with Klein's on the Howard Park store.
"We pray with and for the Kleins … to be involved in providing for us," Sterling said.
The developers will pay $2 million for the city-owned land that has harbored a vacant, deteriorating Super Pride grocery storefront since it closed more than a decade ago, Brown said at the meeting. The new store, tentatively scheduled to open in early 2013, will be located in the 4600 block of Liberty Heights Ave.
The agreement also lays out the payment terms, repayment financing and minority contracting requirements, Brown said.
The BDC's representative at the meeting, Leon F. Pinkett III, declined to comment on the terms of the agreement because the Baltimore City Board of Estimates has not yet approved the language.
Pinkett said that the agreement would go before the board by the end of the month and. If it approved, the city would demolish the existing building. He said demolition could begin as early as Nov. 1.
Some members of the community have waited so long for a place near home to buy fresh food that they were still in disbelief at the end of the meeting.
"After all this talk, I still don't know if there's going to be a grocery store," said Jesola Jones, who sat through the two-hour meeting taking notes of what was said. Jones, a 30-year resident of the neighborhood, said she has seen too many disappointments over the past decade and is not getting her hopes up until she sees construction begin. In 2005 two proposals to the BDC fell through.
Other community members think that the Board of Estimates will easily approve the deal and the grocery store will be built as was presented at the meeting.
"What are they going to do, say, 'No'?" asked Shadid Tamir Abdul-Rahim, chairman of the Howard Park Civic Association Inc. "The mayor needs to start pushing to get this thing built."
There were at least 150 people at the meeting to hear the Kleins' plan for the store, and many of them, during public questioning, seemed to have high hopes for the store beyond better nutrition. The store will have a pharmacy and a nurse practitioner clinic, a full-time community relations coordinator, community meeting rooms and possibly a place for social services, said Brown.
Saundra Adams, who recently retired as principal of Calvin Rodwell Elementary School directly across Hillsdale Road from the site of the new supermarket, was delighted to hear that ShopRite plans to assist with the school's culinary arts program.
Some are asking for more community benefits, including summertime training for teenagers, delivery services for the sick and elderly, and partnerships with nearby Forest Park High School. There were many questions about when the grocery would be hiring and how to bid for contracts.
"I can't guarantee all problems will go away," said Brown.
The Kleins operate seven ShopRite markets in Maryland. Their family company was founded in 1925. The Howard Park store will be the company's largest. It is expected to be about 3,000 square feet larger than their store in Bel Air, said Baltimore resident Marshall Klein, who is part of the fourth generation of Kleins managing the company.
"My family will be in this community until I die," he said. "I want 10 stores in Baltimore, but I can't do that unless the first one is the best."