Skip to main content

News & Events

News & Announcements

BioPark drawing home buyers west

Robbie Whelan
Daily Record Business Writer

At the ceremony for the opening and groundbreaking for the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s two new BioPark buildings, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings recalled serving on the association board of the nearby Poppleton neighborhood, in 1979.

“Back then, the biggest fear was that the University of Maryland would come across Martin Luther King [Boulevard],” Cummings, a Democrat, said Monday. “But then there came some visionaries. …There are visionaries on both sides of MLK.”

Ever since local developer Wexford Science and Technology broke ground on the BioPark in 2004, public officials, community activists and real estate agents have been asking questions about what the new development means for the blighted West Baltimore neighborhoods that surround it: Poppleton, Hollins Market, Union Square and Washington Village.

What will happen to real estate in the area? What kinds of new people and businesses will move there? Who, if anyone, will be displaced?

University officials expect the BioPark, when its 10 buildings are completed in 10 to 12 years, to create 2,000 jobs and generate about $500 million in capital investment, and much of it is expected to trickle down into the community.

Already, the university has signed deals with Baltimore City Community College and Goodwill Industries to provide educational and work force development services to benefit nearby low-income populations.

But for others, the BioPark means that wealthy, well-educated scientists, engineers and businesspeople will be moving to the area, and it may be a good time to buy and rehab a house or open a business.

Despite the soft residential market, local real estate professionals have seen a marked increase in home prices in Union Square and Hollins Market, including dozens of stately, Civil War-era brick row homes.

“I think that the housing was taking off regardless of the BioPark, and we first noticed that change around six years ago,” said Sam Bassi, a Hollins Market resident and property manager with Pantanel Properties, which specializes in real estate in the neighborhood. “But the BioPark accelerated that process. The fact that there’s going to be a consumer base of 2,000 employees is really going to accelerate the commercial activity in the area.”

Bassi noted that two restaurants — Zella’s Pizzeria and Baltimore Pho — have opened in the last year there, and that this month, University of Maryland will begin running a shuttle service directly from the BioPark to Hollins Market.

Debbie Kuper, an agent with Prudential-Carruthers’ Federal Hill office, said that in 2001, she sold three adjacent rowhouses facing Union Square park, each in the $150,000 price range. Now, she said, the same houses average about $100,000 more.

“Housing is going to be an issue once biotech really gets moving,” she said. “People are feeling better about the neighborhood, thinking that there will be better people over there. … Everyone’s still a little nervous with the market, but the word ‘biotech’ is helping turn things around. A lot of people who come to me say they’re looking for a 10-year investment, and that’s smart.”

The value of homes sold in Union Square, Hollins Market and Washington Village has increased by an average of 53 percent since 2004, according to Live Baltimore, a nonprofit urban marketing group.

But Poppleton provides the most stunning example of a housing market jump-started by redevelopment. Park Square, a city-subsidized mixed use development of more than 500 properties, is scheduled to break ground in 2009, and the Poppleton Co-Op, a 90-unit Section 8 housing complex adjacent to the BioPark’s north side, is undergoing a multimillion-dollar private renovation by the Hampstead Group, which will convert some of its units into market-rate homes.

Last year, four houses in a row on the 1000 block of West Fayette Street, less than two blocks from the BioPark, sold for an average of $371,000 apiece, helping to account for a 588 percent rise in the median home sale price in the neighborhood. In 2004, the median price of a home sold in Poppleton was $59,500.

Audrey Robinson, president of the Poppleton Co-Op, which is subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said local residents are already reaping the benefits of University of Maryland's investment in the neighborhood.

“We’re feeling so far so good, as long as we don’t become displaced,” she said.

But Robinson said that she and her neighbors have been treated “very well.”

“We are friends with the University of Maryland,” she said. “We have talked with them, and since the builders have been up there, we’ve had a lot of protection from the University of Maryland police department. They’ve treated us very well. That’s been a plus. … It’s cleaner, we have nicer people coming through here, there’s less crime.”