The Johns Hopkins University has a research park just north of its East Baltimore medical campus. The University of Maryland has a “biopark” west of its downtown Baltimore campus.
Now the former Lake Clifton High School property will become a research-oriented “innovation park” and satellite campus for Morgan State University, president David Wilson told Baltimore’s Board of Estimates Wednesday.
Wilson outlined his vision for the property during a meeting in which the city’s spending board voted 5 to 0 to sell roughly 59 acres in and around the 4800 block of St. Lo Drive to Morgan State for $93,652.80, ensuring that the university would have room to expand for years to come.
Development is expected to be phased in over the next 15 to 20 years, according to Morgan State’s land disposition agreement with the city. The Board of Estimates meeting marked one of the first times Wilson has spoken publicly about his goals for the land.
Wilson said Morgan is in “an immense period of growth” and running out of space, after spending more than $1 billion in new construction projects over the last 10 years.
“We have the largest enrollment in the history of the institution,” he said. “Just yesterday, we decided that we are going to have to close our application portal because we simply have no place to put all the students” that want to enroll.
Wilson said the state of Maryland in 2016 designated Morgan the state’s “pre-eminent public urban research university” and that Morgan is also the only “public doctoral comprehensive research university in this city.”
With the acquisition of the Lake Clifton property, he said, “we are seeking to continue the growth of the institution. We have a goal to become a very high research university and join the ranks of Johns Hopkins, the University of Maryland College Park and, most recently, our sister institution, UMBC. The state legislature is poised to pass a law supporting our ascendancy to the very highest ranks.”
Now, Wilson said, he intends to use the Lake Clifton property to provide a home for all the researchers and start-up companies that grow out of research laboratories at Morgan State.
“We see this property as being there, in some instances, as kind of an innovation park, where some of those companies could be spun off, could be incubated, and then grow and help this city to grow with the way Morgan is seeing its future as well.”
Wilson said he sees “an additional billion dollars coming to the institution,” on top of the $1 billion invested over the last decade, “to develop this corridor from North Avenue all the way to East Cold Spring Lane to make that, if you will, one of the most exciting places in our city to live, to recreate, to work and to learn.”
Baltimore’s housing department sought developers for the surplus Lake Clifton school property several years ago and former Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young chose Morgan State as the potential buyer in late 2020, shortly before he left office. Morgan representatives have been working since then with Young’s successor, Mayor Brandon Scott, City Comptroller Bill Henry and others to finalize terms and conditions leading to a sale.
Scott, who touted the sale in his State of the City address yesterday, said it will have a transformative effect for the communities near Morgan State and the former Lake Clifton campus.
“We know this city has had a history of not investing and partnering with our [historically Black colleges and universities] and making sure that we support them in their growth,” he said. “This is a prime example that we have decided that we are no longer going to be that way.”
“It’s fitting that we convey this vital community asset to one of our city’s most important anchor institutions,” Henry said. “Morgan State is the perfect partner to lead the revitalization of the former Lake Clifton High School site.”
Following Wednesday’s Board of Estimates meeting, Wilson tweeted about the deal, saying “Look out Baltimore; look out Maryland; look out nation and world—here comes the National Treasure.”
It’s a done deal!!! This morning, the @CityofBaltimore approved sale of the 59-acre Lake Clifton property to Morgan. This site is 1/3 the size of our current campus. Look out Baltimore; look out Maryland; look out nation and world—here comes the National Treasure. pic.twitter.com/laKQLcg9h7
— David Kwabena Wilson (@morganpres) April 6, 2022
According to the Comptroller’s Office, the 59-acre parcel includes the former Lake Clifton High School, another 14 acres of adjacent property south and east of the school, and a historic structure known as the Valve House.
Under the proposed agreement, Morgan State commits to demolishing the 1960s-era school and redeveloping the property, with a projected minimum investment of $200 million.
Andy Frank, the city’s Real Estate Officer working with Henry, said the land disposition agreement defines Phase One as the demolition of the school building and stabilization the Valve House; completion of a master plan that will be approved by Baltimore Planning Commission within three years, and construction of a “convocation center” within 10 years.
Besides academic and research-oriented buildings, other possible uses for the land include athletic fields, a wellness center, mixed-use housing and other amenities.
According to the comptroller’s office, the $93,652.80 sale price will cover the balance of the unpaid bond debt service owed to the State of Maryland. The city will also save approximately $724,379 in annual maintenance and security costs.
Frank said Morgan State has also agreed to conserve and store five works of art on the Lake Clifton campus; relocate a basketball court from the main campus to property on the west side of St. Lo Drive; grant the city an easement to access a cell tower on the site, and allow Baltimore City Public Schools to use an existing football field through 2024.
Frank said the 59-acre tract, conveyed in three parcels, represents one third as much land as Morgan State has now. Wilson said the 59-acre sale represents “the largest acquisition of real property” in Morgan State’s 155-year history.
The sale still needs approval from the Morgan State University Board of Regents and the Maryland Board of Public Works.
“Although this isn’t the final step in the process, this agreement is truly an important step in what will be a monumental advancement in Morgan’s history,” Wilson said.