CAMBRIDGE — The Eastern Shore Land Conservancy believes growth should occur within the Eastern Shore’s cities and towns — those with infrastructures designed to support development.
After completing the renovation of the McCord Laundry Building, now the Eastern Shore Conservation Center, at 114 S. Washington St. in Easton, ESLC has set its eye on another abandoned, deteriorating building — “Factory F” of the former Phillips Packing Company in Cambridge.
During a Wednesday, Jan. 13, Talbot Association of Clergy and Laity meeting at the Eastern Shore Conservation Center, ESLC executive director Rob Etgen discussed the potential project.
Etgen said Cambridge was identified as one of ESLC’s Center for Towns priority towns and the organization is involved with three major revitalization efforts within Cambridge, which center around what ESLC collectively is calling the “Packing District.”
The first component is the potential restoration of Factory F of the former Phillips Packing Company; the second is the birth of Cannery Park, which is adjacent to Factory F; and the third is the prospective rejuvenation of housing in the Pine Street community, which surrounds both the factory building and the future park.
Katie Parks, director of the Center for Towns at the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, said during the height of Cambridge’s Phillips Packing Company, in 1937, the company employed about 10,000 people. She said thousands of Phillips employees also lived in Cambridge, in workforce housing built on Pine Street and the surrounding area.
During the Jan. 13 TACL meeting, Etgen said the population of Cambridge, as of 2013, was 12,620.
“That gives great context to what (the Phillips Packing Company) meant to the community,” Parks said.
In addition to employing about 10,000 people, the company also purchased more than $1 million in produce from local farmers in 1937 and, during World War II, provided all the Meals Ready to Eat for United States troops, Parks said.
She said the company shut down in the 1960s, which led to widespread unemployment in the community.
Factory F is the last remaining building from the 60-acre packing plant and has been in deteriorating condition for several decades, Etgen said.
Etgen said Factory F is under contract, as part of a joint venture between ESLC and Cross Street Partners, and they have until April to close on the property.
The idea is to renovate the 60,000-square-foot building and turn it into an Eastern Shore Food and Farming Exchange, which would help rebuild Cambridge’s economy and address local hunger and nutrition issues, “while supporting the local food and farming industries and celebrating the Eastern Shore’s unique resources,” Parks said in a Friday, Jan. 29, email.
She said preliminary ideas for the revitalization of the building include a farm-to-table restaurant, a brew pub, a community venue, a food-processing plant and warehouse to serve local school systems, and a children’s museum.
As part of the Packing District project, ESLC and the City of Cambridge recently partnered with Morgan State University, which will evaluate the housing in the Pine Street Community.
In a May 18, 2015, letter to stakeholders in the Pine Street Community project, Morgan State University said the goal is to develop a Small Area Plan, or neighborhood-level plan, to “provide a vision and framework for the comprehensive revitalization of the Pine Street Community as a vibrant place to live, work, worship, play and visit that will serve the surrounding neighborhoods and Downtown.”
Cannery Park, the 6.6 acre property adjacent to Factory F, is the urban park Etgen said will round the Packing District project out. The park property was transferred to the city this past spring, according to George Hyde, city engineer for the City of Cambridge.
The city received a $1.8 million Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bay Trust Fund grant, which will be used to restore the headwaters of Cambridge Creek that flows through the property, Hyde said. He said the stream restoration work is expected to start in September and will be complete by spring 2017.
Hyde said, the city also is working to acquire the old railroad track on the property, which would be developed into a bike and walking trail.
Parks said a preliminary construction budget set the cost of the Factory F project at $20 million and ESLC is seeking private and public sources to help fill a $6 million funding gap.
During the Jan. 13 TACL meeting, Etgen said there are other bidders who wish to demolish Factory F.
“What we’re trying to do is not lose that piece of Cambridge history and the Shore’s history around food production,” Etgen said.
Parks said the focus on revitalizing Eastern Shore towns follows ESLC’s mission shift in 2011.
“The Center for Towns is working to build strong towns that are well-defined and vibrant,” Parks said in a Friday, Jan. 29, email. “Redevelopment helps alleviate development pressure on our agricultural lands, thereby supporting our land conservation efforts.”
She said investing in town infrastructure already available, like abandoned or deteriorating buildings, when looking to develop or grow, “creates lively, walkable communities that can support the region’s growth.”
During the Jan. 13 TACL meeting, Etgen said when ESLC began in 1990, about 80 percent of Eastern Shore development was taking place on land zoned for agriculture or conservation.
“That has turned around entirely,” Etgen said. “Today we’re getting about 80 percent of our new growth in our towns, where we can afford to provide services, where we can mix up our communities, where community institutions like places of worship and the YMCA and sewer systems ... can work efficiently.”
By centering growth efforts within the landscape and infrastructure of the Eastern Shore’s towns and cities, both the benefits and the burdens are distributed equally, Etgen said.
“We have to have the benefits of our communities be shared more broadly across the whole community — the benefits of conservation, of clean water ... parks,” Etgen said. “That’s a theme that’s near and dear to us ... To try to make our programs more inclusive and inviting to everyone, to target our protection work to areas where it’s going to serve the most people who haven’t been served before.”
Etgen said some of the biggest challenges facing the Eastern Shore and its residents include demographical problems, socioeconomic problems and poverty clusters.
Mary Calloway, associate director of economic development for the City of Cambridge, said the the city is eager for the project to gain a foothold.
“The development will bring new job opportunities into the community ... Pair this project with others in the making and we find the City in a much better position for increased economic growth,” Calloway said in a Friday, Jan. 29, email.
“It would be helping one of, if not the most impoverished community in the region,” Egten said. “We just see so many upsides, so we’re going to keep swinging at it. It’s a spectacular building with a lot of potential and with a lot of story and history and culture and memory to the community. But again, with a lot of barriers to getting there from here.”
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