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Neighborhoodsby Fern Shen10:50 amJun 3, 20230

After acquiring Janney Street Park for $1, Pompeian so far isn’t using it

What has happened since the olive oil company struck a sweetheart deal with the city of Baltimore six years ago?

Above: How the former Janney Street Park looks today, its playground equipment removed after it was acquired in 2017 by the Pompeian company. A much smaller replacement park was opened in 2020. (Fern Shen)

It was simple and small, but the old Janney Street Park was a cherished oasis for this blue-collar rowhouse neighborhood in East Baltimore – a bit of green amid highways, trucks and industry.

It had a bench under the trees, swings, two slides, other play equipment, a basketball court and a grassy field big enough to play soccer or toss a frisbee.

But against the community’s wishes, city officials sold the park in 2017 to an adjacent business, the Pompeian olive oil company, for just $1.

Pompeian olive oil company given a city park for $1 (11/15/17)

Fronting on 4203 Pulaski Highway, Pompeian said it needed the space for an expansion plan that would, they promised, be a job-producing boon to the city.

Residents say the park's playground is a popular place for neighborhood kids (Photo by Danielle Sweeney)

ABOVE: How the play area at Janney Street Park looked before the city sold it. BELOW: The southern end of the park, viewed from Fairmount Avenue, back when residents could walk their dogs there. (Danielle Sweeney, Fern Shen)

the southern end of Janney Street Park, viewed from Fairmount Avenue. (Fern Shen)

So what does the space look like six years later, some Brew readers asked recently?

What ever happened, they wondered, to the company’s promise to build a replacement park at the far end of the parcel?

And what new buildings has the company constructed on the land it acquired?

No buildings were constructed, is the answer to that last question, we discovered on a visit to the site recently.

The playground equipment and bench have been removed, and the area is fenced off, including the part where the soccer games and dog walking used to happen.

The basketball backboards were removed, and part of that area was used to slightly extend the parking area for trucks.

But, basically, the park the company claimed remains a vacant lot.

“I don’t see anybody play in there. You can’t go in,” said area resident Gilder Guzman, looking through the chain-link fence.

former janney street park now pompeian property view from Janney Street

ABOVE: How the  park playground area looks today, viewed from Janney Street. BELOW: The fenced-off lower end of the former park. (Fern Shen)

back side of the former Janney Street Park, now fenced off. At the other end in the distance, The Pompeian company, its current ownew

17% its Original Size

What about the new Janney Street Park that was opened in October 2020?

“The children do play in there,” said Guzman, who moved to the area six months ago. “I haven’t heard any complaints.”

One of the smallest parks maintained by Baltimore’s Recreation and Parks Department, it sits at the far end of the 64,500 square-foot original park parcel.

According to a 2016 planning document, approximately 59,000 square feet of the parcel was conveyed to Pompeian, with a 5,200 square-foot portion retained by the city for the replacement park.

With the addition of 6,000 feet from a closed off portion of East Fairmount Avenue, the new park ended up being 11,200 square feet. That makes it just 17% the size it had been before the sale.

The Janney Street Park replacement playground on East Fairmount Avenue. Not visible to the left is the Loading Dock. (Fern Shen)

The Janney Street Park replacement playground on East Fairmount Avenue. Not visible to the left is The Loading Dock, a building materials re-use facility. (Fern Shen)

On top of a brightly-colored rubber surface, there’s a dome-shaped climbing structure, swings, benches and a single basketball hoop.

The trees that had ringed this end of the parcel were cut down as part of the project, so there’s not much shade at the new park.

Pompeian: Expansion Still Planned

Asked why nothing transformative has happened on the parkland it acquired six years ago, Pompeian pointed to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We did have some delays for the expansion because of the pandemic, but the expected completion date is 2025,” corporate communications manager Mackenzie Brown said in an email.

As for the basketball court that has become a truck parking area, Brown said, “The space will be utilized in a more purposeful way as part of our overall expansion project.”

Such expansion would “allow for more storage capacity for both bulk and finished goods and will provide larger production capacity onsite,” Brown said, noting that the company has “moved all of our domestic bottling to Baltimore.”

Asked why nothing has happened on the parkland it acquired in 2017, Pompeian pointed to the pandemic.

Did Pompeian’s nearly 400,000 square-foot warehouse at Tradepoint Atlantic in Baltimore County, opened in 2021, take the place of the warehouse originally planned on the Janney Street Park property?

“We’re still committed to growing the Baltimore facility,” Brown said.

Pompeian has approximately 187 employees based at the two locations, some of them working remotely, she added.

In 2020, the company reported having 166 workers at the East Baltimore facility alone.

Uncertain Future

When the parkland was conveyed to the city in 2017, documents on file with the Board of Estimates said the city was requiring Pompeian to build the replacement park at a cost of $237,000 – equivalent to the “fair market value” of the Janney Street Park.

Brown declined to say how much the company actually spent.

One notable provision of the deal indicates that Janney Street Park, in its new location and with its smaller footprint, is still at risk.

Negotiated on behalf of the city by the Baltimore Development Corporation, the agreement locks in an option that allows Pompeian to buy the replacement park “for further expansion of its operations, if required.”

A new replacement park (no location specified) would then have to be built “of comparable size and scope” to the first.

But this time around, according to its agreement with the city, Pompeian would have to pay full price for the land instead of $1.

Cathy Gentry has opposed the sale of Janney Street Park to Pompeian Olive Oil, whose building is visible in the distance. (Fern Shen)

In 2017, resident Cathy Gentry talked about why she opposed the sale of the Janney Street Park to the olive oil company, whose plant is visible in the distance. (Fern Shen)

• To reach a reporter: fern.shen@baltimorebrew.com

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