A transformative South Baltimore- based project more than a decade in the making is finally beginning to come to fruition.
The Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks (BCRP) has officially marked the start of construction for the Middle Branch Fitness and Wellness Center at Cherry Hill at the groundbreaking ceremony on the afternoon of September 21, 2020 at Reedbird Park.
The fitness and wellness center will be complemented by an adjacent multi- purpose playing field, providing additional outdoor recreational opportunities for community members. The state-of-the-art complex will be Baltimore City’s first-ever regional recreational facility, according to BCRP.
Local and state officials, BCRP executives, community leaders and city residents were at the ceremony to celebrate the groundbreaking of what will be known as the ‘super rec center’ and may become the new standard of recreation for the city.
“Today is a great day for us here in Baltimore. This has been a journey that has been over a decade in the making to get us to this groundbreaking today,” said Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young when sharing remarks, thanking partners that made the project possible. “The city of Baltimore remains committed to the enhancement and reestablishment of recreational facilities and opportunities, of course for our young people, but for all residents of our great city. Partnerships between city and state agencies, local organizations and the community make projects like the Middle Branch Fitness and Wellness Center possible.”
The South Baltimore Gateway Partnership, Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and Cherry Hill Development Corporation partnered with BCRP over the course of the planning and development phases of the project.
“The reality is for much of my lifetime, we’ve been investing in the failure of young people and not their promise. This is an investment into the
future and promise of young people of Baltimore City,” said Council President and Democratic mayoral candidate Brandon Scott. “It will be a shining example of how we can actually do great things in neighborhoods to create great people and help them grow up and be the best people they can be, to make Baltimore the best Baltimore it could be and Cherry Hill the best Cherry Hill it could be. That’s what this means to me.”
According to a BCRP press release, the 35,000-square-foot, $23.1 million fitness and wellness center will contain an indoor aquatic center; a community room; fitness studios; a gymnasium with a basketball court; a maker space; and an indoor track.
Funding for the project was made possible by corporate and individual sponsors in addition to the City of Baltimore and the South Baltimore Gateway Partnership.
The outdoor amenities will consist of three additional grass fields, a playground, walking trails, a fishing pier, a dog park, basketball courts, new lighting, and a field house.
Estimated to serve as one of the city’s premier regional indoor and outdoor recreational hubs, the complex will also have ties to existing trail networks, including the Gwynns Falls Trail and the Middle Branch Trail.
The facility which is scheduled to open in 2022, is a culmination of what has been in the works since 2008. The estimated time of completion for the adjacent field is spring 2021.
The Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation and its partners are responsible for constructing an 83,000-square-foot synthetic surface field next to the fitness center. The $2.25 million multi-purpose field will provide a space for baseball, soccer, lacrosse, football, and flag football competition and will be called “BGE Field presented by KELLY.”
BCRP will also operate a variety of after-school sports programs and the Ripken Foundation will run its Badges for Baseball program.
Following remarks by the designated individuals, local officials and community members assembled for the ceremonial dig for the groundbreaking.“It is an opportunity where you can focus on health and wellness, you can focus on community development, but also it’s an economic driver for your community,” said Reginald Moore, executive director of BCRP.
“What this means is that we’ll have a state-of-the-art facility that connects here in Cherry Hill, but also offers opportunities for Westport who has limited to no recreation, and also will offer connections to Brooklyn and the Curtis Bay area.
“We want everyone to come, we want everyone to be engaged, we want the community to be a part of this… To me it’s a win-win for the entire community.”
Raheem Brown, the founder and president of Cherry Hill Eagles Youth Development, is a lifelong Cherry Hill resident and was at the groundbreaking ceremony.
“For this to actually happen— this groundbreaking— it’s monumental,” Brown said. “We really, really needed this football field, we really needed lights. It’s been a long time coming, so I’m very excited.”