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Neighborhoodsby Ian Round3:02 pmJul 8, 20200

West 8 out as Middle Branch waterfront designer

Community members were demanding a new firm after a blackface photo surfaced

Above: One of the Dutch company’s ideas was to extend West Penninsula Drive, at the now-vacant southern tip of Port Covington, to Brooklyn by means of a new bridge across the Middle Branch. (Mark Reutter)

Baltimore has severed its ties with a Rotterdam architecture firm, contracted to develop the Middle Branch Waterfront Master Plan, after The Brew described the controversy that erupted over a photo that surfaced showing an employee and his family enacting the Dutch blackface tradition.

“West 8 is no longer involved with the project,” Lester Davis, spokesman for Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, said this afternoon. “The initiative will move forward without the firm’s involvement.”

Davis would not say who the next designer might be or how much of a delay the firm’s exit will cause.

In May, Mayor Young lauded West 8’s participation in the Middle Branch project after signing off on a $325,000 design contract that was potentially worth $2 million.

“The fact that we are moving forward with West 8’s vision signals that we are planning for a bright future in Baltimore even while we address the challenges of today,” the mayor had noted in a press release.

A 2012 photo allegedly showing a West 8 employee and family acting out the blackface

A 2012 photo allegedly showing a West 8 employee and family acting out the blackface “Zwarte Piet” tradition.

The company was under contract to redesign the long-neglected waterfront that fronts the predominately Black neighborhoods of Cherry Hill, Westport and Brooklyn.

Michael Middleton, executive director of the Cherry Hill Development Corporation, underlined that point in May.

“At last, our residents are reclaiming what’s rightfully theirs,” Middleton was quoted as saying in the release.

The design company called for the creation of parks, trails, wetlands, pavilions, and a new bridge and man-made island at an unspecified cost.

Racist Trope

But, as The Brew reported yesterday, key members of the community lost faith that West 8 could produce a plan that adequately served Black neighborhoods after a photograph surfaced showing three white people in 2012 dressed as “Black Pete” (Zwarte Piet) at the company’s Rotterdam office.

While The Brew was not able to confirm reports that the photo was of a West 8 employee and his children, the photo’s metadata showed that it was taken on November 30, 2102 at the Rotterdam headquarters.

The company did not respond to questions about the photo. Nor did Brad Rogers, executive director of the South Baltimore Gateway Partnership, or Frank Lance, executive director of Parks and People Foundation, who are responsible for managing the design project.

One community leader who found the Rotterdam photo offensive expressed satisfaction that the contract was terminated. “I am very pleased,” said Lisa Hodges-Hiken, executive director of the Westport Community Economic Development Corporation.

“This shows that we have turned a corner when it comes to race and equity issues. Still much more to do, but we’re no longer fighting what to me are threshold issues like cultural competence,” she wrote in an email.

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