Mixed reviews for Mount Vernon Place “restoration agreement”

andrew frank at mvba

Andrew B. Frank discussing Mount Vernon Place restoration project, with the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association.

Photo by: Fern Shen

Speaking before the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association last night, Andy Frank tried to steer discussion away from the toxic topic of trees: specifically, the trees near the Washington Monument that the Mount Vernon Place Conservancy has said must be removed for them to complete a multi-million-dollar upgrade.

Nevertheless tree-cutting – and some even hotter hot-button imagery – persisted, as speakers critiqued the document before them: the terms of the public-private partnership formalizing the conservancy’s relationship with the city.

“It is absurd that we are sitting here discussing something that shouldn’t even be – a legal promise to give control of something that ought to be a government function to a private entity,” said Kim Forsyth, of Reservoir Hill, addressing Frank, the board member speaking for the conservancy.

“That’s how you get a monstrosity in front of Penn Station,” she said, referring to the widely-reviled 51-foot tall aluminum Male/Female statue in front of the city’s century-old Beaux Arts train station, gifted to the city by a private arts group. “It’s evidence of bad management.”

Mount vernon Place resident Arthur Kutcher confronted Andy Frank after the meeting. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Mount Vernon Place resident Arthur Kutcher confronted Andy Frank after the meeting. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Addressing an audience of about 70 people, supporters of the conservancy were just as fiery in their defense of the group’s plan to restore the monument and renovate balustrades, sidewalks and park-space.

“It has been treated as the junkyard, as Baltimore City’s fairground,” said Martin Perschler, an architectural historian.

He called the conservancy’s plan for Mount Vernon Place “probably the smartest investment of my [tax] dollars that I’ve seen in a while.”

Public Dollars, Private Dollars

Frank explained that decision-making on the tree issue rests with the city’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP).

Frank, special adviser to the president of Johns Hopkins University and former deputy mayor, focused his remarks on the recently-released “restoration agreement,” which he said is “not unique.”

He offered examples including the Edgar Allan Poe and H. L. Mencken houses and the Shot Tower, which is operated by a private organization.

Frank said the conservancy has raised $5 million so far toward its $12 million goal. Pressed to break that down he said the figure includes the $1 million bond issue city voters approved last year, $1.5 million “pledged privately,” and the rest would be a combination of city, state and foundation funding.

The meetings held by the conservancy, which was created in 2009, have so far been private but Frank said they may open them to the public: “it has not been determined yet.”

“It is a self-nominating board but we do allow for non-members to serve on committees,” he said, urging the crowd to consider participating. “I hope that we can build trust,” he said, toward the end of his remarks.

That goal appears to be a long way off, judging from the comments from many speakers.

“I have severe questions about the trees, the scale of the development and the architectural and historical questions associated with this agreement,” said Mount Vernon Place resident Tom Spence. “I’m suspicious of a bunch of people who are going to ram through what they want.”

Be sure to check our full comment policy before leaving a comment.

  • Barrylg01984

    Any one who knows Andy Frank, know that he has, and for his entire life has always had, the best interest of the City and its resident’s at heart.  I know that it is difficult to let go and trust others to do the right thing, but, in the case of Andy, that is trust well placed

  • B3rnb

    Time will tell

  • Anonymous

    Uh oh. Public-private partnership using public dollars, city money, closed meetings, but you can be on a committee, but the public can’t come to the committee meetings. Sound familiar? I must respectfully disagree with Barrlylg01984. Andy Frank is not a person to be trusted. Mt. Vernon people and tree lovers throughout Baltimore City, BEWARE of Andy Frank. Do not accept any plan that is not open and transparent, with full public participation.

    Andy Frank was the BDC’s hatchet person in the Mayor’s office who was responsible for seizing The Senator Theatre from the award-winning former owner, which they did because the former owner was an activist on preservation in the West Side’s Superblock, and also an advocate for the community, in opposition to the BDC’s position. One of his most effective tools for accomplishing this fiasco were lies planted in the press, some of which he was forced to retract on multiple occasions, in printed corrections.

    The committee approach that Andy Frank is touting here is only a shell game, designed to give the appearance of public participation in a process where the real decisions are made behind closed doors. I know. I served on one such committee, in a process that was begun by Andy Frank.If you want a clear example of Andy Frank’s track record, you have only to look at where The Senator Theatre is now. The following YouTube video shows the difference in The Senator’s appearance, before and after the City took over the theatre:

    • Freddie

      WTF! Seriously?

    • guest

      I would think anyone who goes after Andy Frank for the Senator Theater problem would be doing so because he was instrumental in having the city lose $900,000 in its sisyphean attempts to prop up Tom Kiefaber’s failed management.  Blaming him for the Senator’s failure is ludicrous.  If you are going to trash someone’s reputation, at least have the balls to use your own name in the process.

      • Tom Kiefaber

        Dear “Guest”,  This is Tom Kiefaber  and I did wish my entire name to be displayed with my recent post re: Andrew Frank and his lack of credibility in these matters.

         You’re are woefully ill informed on the attack you post to smear with misinformation, mystery “guest”, and you hide your identity for the nasty deed. 

        Those are the very  same disingenuous  tactics that the BDC  back-room crew and Mr. Frank perfected behind-the-scenes so effectively in Smalltimore for way too long, hence my relevant and true post, which I fully stand behind.

        Your cheap shot, cloaked mud-throwing attempt form behind a shroud of anonymity, however,  should be seen for the  inaccurate display of sneaky cowardice it represents. 

        • Gary T Barnes

          Really?  It is my understanding that Andy advocated the so-called back-room crew to lend you nearly $1MM while you drove the Sentanor to the ground… And, when you defaulted in those loans — Tom, no one wants to go to a movie theater that smells like dogs (it kinda ruins the taste of the pop corn) — Andy advocated for you to be able to keep your house, which you had posted as collateral.  Sounds to me like you are the one who stole from the City.  You need to be thanking Andy.  Anyone who has known Andy knows that his life’s goal has been, since he was a child, to make Baltimore a better city.  There are scores of projects that are better due to Andy’s involvement.  He is an up-standing, deeply honest, caring and thinking person.  Your rants, on the other hand, show that you are nothing but bitter and irrational.  You should leave Andy alone and work on fixing your own problems. 

  • mc2012

    It pains me to see such a gem slowly left to crumble.
    This restoration is desperately needed and long overdue, it’s great to see a team with the financial wherewithal and management experience to actually see the project through.  I’m sure a plan will be developed to smooth the transition to more healthy and appropriately planted trees.  The longer we wait, the worse the situation gets.

  • Tom Kiefaber

    This account of today’s BOE meeting is for those tired of the Sun’s amateur-hour City Hall reporting on key issues; a welcome relief from the Sun’s intern-level coverage. Seasoned reporter Mark Reutter, who honed his chops at a prior incarnation of the Sun, gets it right for The Brew. 

    I attended today’s contentious BOE meeting, at which citizen-activist Kim Trueheart stepped-up to represent the taxpayers, raising a slew of pertinent objections to the non-transparent deal which BDC czar M.J. Brodie brokered and shilled for, as yet another cloaked BOE back room maneuver. 

    It’s scandalous that the Sun’s coverage of today’s BOE meeting, doesn’t even mention Ms. Trueheart’s citizen opposition testimony & spot-on objections that compelled a sputtering George Nilson, the city’s stooge solicitor, to squelch her articulate presentation after her objections elicited applause from the audience. 

    The Sun’s BOE coverage isn’t just inept, it’s a corrupted account, complicit with our Mayor’s desperate subterfuge to pass this opaque, pig-in-a poke deal. Shame on the Sun for its disingenuous, white-wash coverage of what actually occurred and bravo Mark Reutter. Your professional, proficient coverage is always appreciated.  

  • Gerald Neily

    What is it with trees in this town? Other cities have big beautiful healthy trees all over the place, especially in their most cherished spaces. But Baltimore has to keep chopping them down and trying again. I can see the excuses for this city’s dysfunctional politics, social milieu and voodoo Balti-nomics, but can’t we do better with something as seemingly sanguine as trees? Baltimore seems to have the worst tree canopy of any city south of Fairbanks and I see no evidence that the touted doubling goal has a snowball’s chance. There are even enough places like Otterbein and Oakenshawe that get it right that I know we can do it. The only thing our trees seem to be good for is metaphors, like Columbia’s recently discarded metal leaf people species.

  • Cwals99

    The exact same thing is happening in Charles Village with its development plans and how it engages the community. Greater Homewood Development, an arm of Johns Hopkins, simply engages their own members privately to design a plan, then takes that plan and pretends to solicit community imput.  Their plan is then made public and the public commenting meetings are packed with Hopkins development people who steer all public imput to the Hopkins goals.  You see that the lead is a Mr Frank from Johns Hopkins.

    No mention was made as to the final status of this space as public.  If a public-private partnership is entered…..will the space still be public.  I think we should be aware of attempts to make space private access.

    • Calvert Street

      Exactly what plan of Greater Homewood’s are you referring to? As a resident of Charles Village I attend meetings of the Charles Village Civic Association which does a good job of keeping residents informed about development issues and seeks community input before making decisions..

    • Linn

      Greater Homewood Community Corporation is in no way related to Johns Hopkins University. The organization has a long history of engaging and advocating for community residents around development plans that impact their lives. So basically what you’re saying, Cwals99, is inaccurate.

      • Calvert Street

        Actually Johns Hopkins University is an institutional partner of Greater Homewood and help to establish the organization over forty years ago. But they by no means set their agenda.

    • baltimoregal

      really? I admittedly work for hopkins, in development in fact. so i must have missed that memo about attending those meetings.

  • Peter Merles

    Anyone else willing to step up and raise millions? This gem of a public space, one of the best in the world, is crumbling and the city, understandably, has other priorities.  The monument is closed because it is unsafe, the lawns are mud puddles thanks to the dogs, the sidewalks are cracked and unsafe, the marble is crumbling, the trees are dying, the storm drains are blocked, 2 of the 3 fountains no longer function.  There is a small loyal corps of  “Friends” who volunteer to try and keep up the flower beds.   Do you know the city no longer plants the flower beds?  I haven’t heard anyone suggest a better way to save the Mt Vernon Place Squares and Monument.  These public-private conservancies have been so successful elsewhere.

    • Tom

      Peter I agree with you that the structure itself of this group or its good intentions are not necessarily problems at all. In this instance, however,  the point person being Andy Frank, with a similar  public/private MO that makes the infamous BDC so virulent with its white collar crime approach to secretive unaccountable  issues with public fund. . The weaselly character  is just plain slimy and cut his teeth as Brodie’s toady at that notorious development agency The BDEC,   busting balls the whole way. Then he helped pull a coup and became our mayor and let Steala cut the ribbons, use the gift cards and meet with her lawyers. The BDC actually inhabited the office during that tenure.  Now he’s shilling for the ongoing east side Hopkins fiasco in the making over there. It’s criminal, literally, The guy positively slithers and he’s not to be trusted AT ALL. And some time I will express how I really feel. In the interim watch out Mount Vernon. t 😉 

      • Gary T. Barnes

        How many loans did Andy get the City to extend for you, while you left the Senator to go to the dogs (literally)?  How kind it was for Andy to advocate for you to keep your house, which you put as collateral for the last of those loans.  I would think that you would be thanking Andy, not speaking ill of him.  Bitterness and irrational thinking for your own failures is very unbecoming. 

  • Cwals99

    There are two concerns that are generic with any public-private partnership of this kind:
    1)  The area surounding Mt. Vernon Place has a high density of non-profits that already benefit from protections in tax law in paying what becomes large sums of revenue to the city over time.  This is in fact a large driver of the City’s structural revenue shortfall and by extension, the reasons that communities like Mt. Vernon go without needed City maintanence.  What these partnerships appear to do is create a steady flow of city funds to one area already receiving large tax deductions and ring-fencing that area’s future tax revenue back to said community rather than the city’s general fund.  This gives some citizens pause and raises moral and ethical questions.
    2)  At a time when America recognizes the existence of an unsustainable ‘income inequality’, these kinds of partnerships actually work against the general trend of drafting public policy that reverses this ‘inequity’ trend.  It seems better to solicit more contributions/tax revenue from private non-profits like Johns Hopkins and the Catholic Church allowing the city to simply perform its normal function of providing services without entering into what will be a contract giving powers to this private ‘Conservancy’.  This would be a broadening, rather than narrowing, of public policy.

  • Linda Franklin

    I appreciated the niceness and openness of Andy Frank at the meeting, and his willingness to let a variety of people speak. Especially in contrast to the self-nominated “mayor of Mt. Vernon” who verbally abused me and Kim Forsythe after the meeting. 
           I do not like the trend in Baltimore of handing over public (and therefore citizen-tax-supported) assets such as the Washington Monument and Robert E. Lee Park to very small, essentially private groups who allow little if any input from the public.  Who gets permission to do things (like hanging baskets — a suburban ladylike dressing-up at the Wash. Monu.) and who gives the permission, and who votes on it?  Why did so much $$$$$ go outside Baltimore, even outside Maryland, to get studies done, and plans drawn up?  Let’s think about being more “locovore” in spending and consumption.  If Baltimore is in such trouble that it now has 1/6th of the parks employees it had a few years ago, why would all that money be spent on Olin and an arborist from Pennsylvania?  That money could have hired several gardeners and a local arborist besides.  The Conservancy says they wanted to get a “bias-free” study done of the trees, for example.  Excuse me????  Who would be MORE biased than some out-of-towner who might profit from a complete re-do of all the trees and plantings????  At least a local arborist might feel “biased” toward Baltimore.      The cisterns the “Conservancy” wants to build to water the trees will serve as holding ponds for toxic runoff.  n’c’est pas?  (I use French because the unhistoric design for the “new” trees is very  stylized French.)      I doubt that the “mud puddles” are due to dogs, as P. Merles states. Have you ever watched people scuffing along in their hard-heeled shoes?  Have you watched the ground being packed down by booths and people during festivals?      I think this Conservancy project should separated into 2 parts:  URGENT (repairing the marble and metal monument itself), and MAYBE possibly never (tearing out the trees and forcing 21st C planting ideas onto a monument to a man who wrote many many words on the planting and placement of trees, including “It is always in one’s power to cut a tree down, but time only can place them where one would have them, after the grd. [sic. ground] is stripped of them.”  GW, 1/25/1795 to William Pearce.                   Signed Linda Franklin                                                                             

  • Barrylg1984

    Wow, I did not realize that I would let loose a torrent of emotions of people, especially Tom Keifaber, whom I recall from the newspapers owes the fact that he still has a roof over his head to Andy Frank.   Thank goodness there are people like Andy, who are willing to stand in the path of uniformed public criticism, in order to what is right for the City. 

  • Linder87722

    I don’t have an opinion on the people you attack.   The city gave you $200,000 in grant funds, far more generous than the loan you deny ever getting, and lost $600,000 on a loan guarantee.   The state lost more than $300,000.   Technically, you did not receive a loan, but city taxpayers gave you $800,000 and decided not to take your house.   Is there nothing in that package for which you are appreciative?    

  • Barry L. Gogel

    Mr. Keifaber,
    Anyone who knows Mr. Frank knows that you comments speak more to your issues than to Mr. Frank’s character. . .

    • Anonymous

      From B Brew: The comment thread on the Senator Theatre has gotten overheated, and we’re asking all parties to take a time out.

      • Robyn Webb

         I would be inclined to agree with Linda Franklin.  When is the City of Baltimore going to stop allowing these out of town hotshots to run roughshod over us in the interest of short term gain in the form of our dollars going out of town?  Public/private partnerships for management of public lands has not been successful elsewhere, and the Shot Tower, Mt Clare Museum, etc simply don’t count here.  They’re basically museums, and public/private not for profit partnerships are common in this context.  While the anchor of Mt Vernon is the monument, and can be considered as a sort of museum space, the surrounding grounds are a public park that serves the local community.  When we view this space as a park, the comparison between Mt Vernon and places like the Shot Tower becomes “apples and oranges.”   It would be my view that a park is a very different animal, and must be preserved as a public space.  Possibly, an actual not for profit conservancy could be established for the purpose of the restoration and maintenance of the monument itself, in partnership with the city, but that things like sidewalk repair and landscaping in the surrounding area should be the exclusive domain of the city.  It’s true that the mudpuddles and other landscape damage result more from the numerous events held there than from daily park use like dog walking, but that, too, is the responsibility of the city.  By way of example, in DC, dozens of huge events are held on the National Mall each year.  The National Park Service restores sod, seed and any damaged landscaping promptly, as part of the cleanup following each of these events.  The cost is passed along to the event organizers as part of the standard event contract.  The cost to the city for the maintenance of this park area should be no greater than it ever was (accounting for inflation), as long as it’s regularly and efficiently performed.  You can bet that if someone of Frank’s position and reputation is pushing this hard for a major renovation project, there’s a whole bunch of money in it . . .

  • Unellu

    I heard it be said of one man–
    that he is a slippery eel–
    though he is positively destructive–
    it would be impossible
    to actually catch him in the act
    of destroying anything–
    he knows how to cover his tracks,
    he magnetizes to power–
    pleases the ones who matter–
    and climbs the ladder–
    most adroitly– he knows to be
    where the action is thick–
    he’s slick–you couldn’t pin the tail
    on his donkey–he’s a devil.

    I heard it be said of the same man–
    that he’s a nice man–a frank man–
    a man to trust–
    a man who works tirelessly
    on public issues–
    a man who lets others speak–
    who listens–
    he doesn’t let friends down–
    and even to enemies
    he gives a helping hand–
    a second chance–
    may be even a third chance–
    he’s an honest, thinking, caring man–
    the world’s a better place–
    because of him–an angel.

    Who is the first man?
    Who is the second man?
    The same man–
    It’s Barack Obama–
    fondly called Obummer–
    it’s Martin O’Malley–
    also called Jack O’Malley–
    by mistake by Obama–
    It’s Bill Clinton–
    helping in Africa–
    tending to his killer heart–
    Slick Willie his moniker–
    It’s Jack Kennedy–
    of Peace Corp fame–
    an inveterate seducer–
    It’s Abe Lincoln–
    a deity–
    who set brother on brother–
    It’s Dick Cheney
    who sucked this country dry–
    while he saved it from terror–
    It’s every man in public life–
    his dark side a horror–
    depending on whom you ask–
    a savior or a destroyer….

    Usha Nellore




  • Tom Kiefaber

    Usha, Your poetry is marvelous. Thanks for sharing your gifts and extraordinary insights. It’s a blessing. 

  • Unellu

    Thank you so much Tom–I am so heartened when people read poetry.  Thank you again.  

  • February 12, 2016

  • February 11, 2016

    • What makes a good park bench? The same elements the Roman architect Vitruvius found in all good design: Firmness, Commodity and Delight. What’s the difference between a good park bench and a great park bench? That’s a question Kevin Plank’s Sagamore Development Co. wants to explore as it seeks to create a world-class waterfront environment […]

  • February 10, 2016

    • Arguing that a trash-burning power plant proposed for South Baltimore would violate the federal Clean Air Act – and that its permit expired nine months ago – two groups are suing the New York-based company developing it. The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) and United Workers today notified Energy Answers that they intend to file a […]

  • February 9, 2016

    • Some political candidates use Apple products to write their position papers and email their staff. Northeast Baltimore’s Rodney C. Burris dangled a couple of the trendy devices in front of potential contributors as a way of raising cash. In return for a contribution of $10, contributors get a chance to win an Apple Watch or […]

  • February 6, 2016

    • Emergency repairs to a 20-inch main will result in temporary water shutoffs to about 450 houses in the Canton area on either Monday or Wednesday. Service will be interrupted at 165 houses on Monday starting at 8 a.m. and ending about 4 p.m. The affected properties will be on Montford between Foster and Fait, Fait […]

More of the Daily Drip »

Below the Fold

  • December 15, 2014

    •   “Ha ha, so not a surprise.” “Shocking…not!!” We get applause but also the occasional eye-roll these days for our accountability reporting – like last week’s piece about how tax cuts promised by the mayor as a selling point for Horseshoe Baltimore probably won’t happen, thanks to the casino’s lower-than-expected revenues. We get where the […]