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Dundalk Renaissance Corporation has been awarded $810,000 in BRNI grants from the state of Maryland. DRC has participated in the BRNI program, using funding to revitalize businesses and homes around Dundalk, like the home pictured above.

DUNDALK — Dundalk Renaissance Corporation has been awarded $810,000 from the state of Maryland for Baltimore Regional Neighborhood Initiative (BRNI) and Strategic Demolition grants.

The BRNI, according to the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, is a program that aims to demonstrate how strategic investment in local housing and businesses can lead to healthy, sustainable communities with a growing tax base and enhanced quality of life. The program attempts to focus on areas where modest investment and a coordinated strategy will have an appreciable neighborhood revitalization impact.

Meghan Sweeney, marketing manager at DRC, said the non-profit will use this grant money to continue to do what it has been doing – restoring neighborhoods around Dundalk and expanding existing programs while finding new ways to help the community.

Amy Menzer, Executive Director of DRC, said the state created the BRNI in 2014, with the effort in mind to fund deeper levels of investment with a strategic revitalization plan for the Baltimore area.

“We were fortunate to be included in that pilot program, which actually was just four communities,” Menzer said.

“We were the only community not based in Baltimore City that was a part of that program.”

The BRNI program has since opened itself to a much broader reach than those original four communities. The Maryland General Assembly has increased the level of funding available, Menzer said.

“We have a strategic plan for the organization and it closely aligns with our assessment of data as well as feedback from the community,” Menzer said.

“We’re learning from our past experience in the community. There are a number of different factors, looking at what needs we’re seeing, that there’s nothing that currently exists. There’s this phase of assessing what is the reality in the community, looking at data and talking to people, and then trying to come up with what we think are concrete initiatives that can address some of those challenges in a concrete way.”

DRC has used past grant money from the state for revitalization projects already. Over a span of time between 2014 and 2019, DRC says it has invested $1,598,542 in homeowner renovation projects, with 49 renovations sold to new buyers. The sale price of homes has increased by 25 percent over that span.

DRC has planted 600 trees, removed 48,000 pounds of trash from Dundalk’s streets, and diverted 60,000 gallons of rainwater from storm drains. The organization’s small business initiative, Project Pop-Up, has assisted with six new pop-up businesses in the area, with four of them becoming permanent businesses.

DRC has planned specifically what it will do with the $810,000 it was awarded. The organization will put $250,000 toward strategic demolition for acquisition and predevelopment of 16 Center Place in Historic Downtown Dundalk, which is the old Heritage Food Market.

“This doesn’t mean the building will be demolished,” Menzer said. “It could be for demolition, or it could be for acquisition of renovation. It’s meant for buildings that are a blight on the community, to address buildings that are particularly challenging.”

Menzer said she thinks DRC is the only nonprofit organization that has been awarded strategic demolition funding. The intent with 16 Center Place is to find an end-user for the building, she said, and partner to either renovate or redevelop.

“I know the community has been wanting a grocery store,” Menzer said. “We have actually been working on that, and we’ve been talking to potential grocery stores, both for-profit and nonprofit, over the last year-and-a-half. It’s a challenge to find an operator to run a grocery store to scale, since a lot of grocery stores are huge.”

Menzer said DRC does not want to lock itself into a situation where it has to be a grocery store, but that is the intent as of now.

DRC said it will use $200,000 to partner with private developers to renovate houses for sale in focus neighborhoods. Menzer said this program, Market Boost, has been in place since 2014. DRC supported 45 house renovations when the program began.

“What we’re trying to do is generate more interest from investors to come into Dundalk and so more renovations for sale, as opposed to investors coming in to buy a row home and rent it,” Menzer said. “We’re looking for home ownership.”

DRC will put $100,000 toward its Home Purchase Incentives program, offering 10 forgivable loans of $10,000 in its focus neighborhoods. DRC’s focus neighborhoods, Menzer said, are around the new Dundalk Elementary School, as they try to leverage excitement around that new building.

“We want to strengthen the neighborhoods that feed the new elementary school,” she said.

“We’re also working, so it’s Turner Station, Dunlogan, St. Helena, old Dundalk, and then we’re also working in Graceland Park and doing some work in O’Donnell Heights. That’s about marching further up Dundalk Avenue.”

Menzer said the forgivable loan is meant as a purchase incentive. If the buyer stays in the home for five years, the loan is forgiven.

DRC will allocate $55,000 for Spruce-Up funds for the Dundalk Avenue corridor to improve the appearance of public and commercial spaces, Sweeney said. The organization will use $55,000 for Commercial Improvement grants to improve the appearance of businesses in the Historic Town Center.

Sweeney said that $50,000 will be used for DRC’s Senior Home Repair program, which supports home repairs for low-to-moderate income senior homeowners to be completed by contractors and CCBC students. DRC is forming a partnership with CCBC to allow trade students to acquire job training while enrolled.

“If we can spend a dollar to improve a home, and at the same time that dollar is helping to pay for someone who’s getting job training to learn how to be a contractor, that’s another potential win for the community,” Menzer said. “We’re just trying to explore ways to deepen our impact with the funds we do have.”

DRC will use $100,000 for operating support for DRC to continue supporting staff to implement these programs, Sweeney said.