DHCD pledges support for Cambridge renovations

CAMBRIDGE — Kenneth C. Holt, secretary of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, paid a visit to Cambridge on March 14, to attend a meeting with Cambridge City Council and deliver a simple message: The MD DHCD has the ability to help Cambridge, and the means. The department only awaits requests for assistance to move into action.

Dorchester Banner/Paul Clipper
Kenneth C. Holt, left, secretary of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, visited Cambridge to deliver a positive message: We can help.

Three areas for concern drew the closest focus in the discussion, led by Mr. Holt: the Sailwinds project, blighted housing in the Pine Street district, and downtown renovations on Race Street.

Secretary Holt told the council and a handful of citizens, who attended the meeting in the Edward E. Watkins Public Safety Complex at 8 Washington St. in Cambridge, that the city needs to develop a broad plan for improvement of the infrastructure of Cambridge. “I hope that we can knit the patchwork together,” he said, referring to the widely spread improvement projects already completed in town.

“We have invested significantly in a number of projects on Race Street,” said Secretary Holt, noting that the DHCD Eastern Shore headquarters is located at 503 Race St. The Secretary noted that his department had invested in 505-507 Race St., and in the stabilization of the Hearn Building, and in negotiating on the financing of the new vision for the Phillips Packing Company project on Dorchester Avenue.

“We are invested in Cambridge, and we are going to continue to invest capital in Cambridge,” said the secretary.

He started the meeting by discussing planning for the Sailwinds property, which has been through various levels of planning for many years as an 11-acre parcel that includes Governors Hall, off Byrn Street. Secretary Holt urged the attendees to begin thinking of the redevelopment of the Cambridge waterfront as a 30-acre parcel of land, and not the small “Sailwinds” property. “It can’t be ten acres, with uncertainty over the 15 acres that Dorchester General Hospital sits on. It has to be one vision, one plan.”

Secretary Holt pointed out that the first focus of the plan should be the hospital property. He reminded the attendees that the University of Maryland Shore Medical System was extremely interested in building a new regional hospital, a project that was most recently projected for a tract of land north of the Easton airport. According to the secretary, the University of Maryland is in favor of moving operations from the Dorchester General building on the riverfront to a new, state of the art medical center on US Route 50, and “turn over, at some consideration, the existing 15 acres” with the timeline being 2022.

“What I would encourage the Council is to gather community input, sooner rather than later, and assure that the University of Maryland Medical Center property is articulated.” The secretary encouraged the Council to support the relocation of the hospital, which would encompass a “six to 18 month time period,” and then to invite RFPs that encompass the entire waterfront, from the Visitor Center to Cambridge Creek.

“This is an ideal location for a very, very substantial tourist entertainment, commercial complex that embodies the waterfront,” said the secretary. “It will not be something that is going to be a snap of the fingers, it will probably not be something inexpensive. I think there’s probably no greater opportunity for a community than what we’re facing right now.”

Speaking of the State of Maryland, the secretary added, “We are all on the same team, working for your best interests.”

Moving to the 500 block of Race Street, the secretary exhibited great interest and excitement over the future of the Hearn Building, and restated a commitment to restoration of the entire 500 block of Race Street. “We want to hear from entrepreneurs for business development projects,” said the secretary, noting that his office had available matching funds and low interest loans to spur commercial development throughout downtown Cambridge.

“I can’t tell you how positive I am on the potential future here in Cambridge,” said Secretary Holt. “The bottom line for me is achieving results.”

Blighted and abandoned housing was also discussed, and the secretary pledged that assistance was available for demolition or stabilization of condemned properties with no ownership, and that such projects in residential areas would have to be taken on a step-by-step basis.

“We can provide down payment assistance for homeownership,” said the secretary, “we can reduce interest rates on home mortgages, we can be very engaged in helping to create a product that addresses a lot of the issues” that stand in the way of homeownership.

A question and answer period followed, in which the members of the Council asked questions to bring specifics mentioned by the secretary to a finer point. The secretary promised that the DHCD would work with the city on any improvement project brought to the agency.

Kenneth C. Holt was appointed secretary of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development by Governor Larry Hogan in 2015. As secretary, he manages the state’s housing finance, mortgage insurance, community development and building code programs.

Paul Clipper is the editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at pclipper@newszap.com.

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