Jaina Moseley Lawson, an intern at Morgan State University
The new development in Northwood Commons has built all-time high expectations for the community around Morgan State University (MSU) and beyond.
With construction continuing and many storefronts popping up, there are some businesses currently open while the rest of the shopping center is being completed.
Fulton Bank, McDonald’s and BP gas station are in full swing and open for business.
LiDL Food Market, a Europe-based company, opened its grand opening at Northwood Commons on July 13. The first 100 residents in line received a gift card for free groceries, and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott was on hand to welcome them with David Wilson, president of Michigan State University, Ed.
“People want high-quality food at reasonable prices, and that’s what Lidl provides to our community,” Wilson said, while early customers were talking about the store. “It has been a very long time – 50, 60 years. Societies should not wait that long for affordable, high-quality food.”
McDonald’s manager Nellie Blackman has fond memories of the former Northwood Plaza that had Save-A-Lot where LiDL now stands, and Mia’s Beauty Supply store. Blackman said she was happy to see the new changes that were taking place. As a Morgan graduate, she remembered going to the mall on Havenwood Road in Northeast Baltimore to shop, party, and hang out with friends.
Blackman believes the big changes will see the return of people looking to patronize the many restaurants and stores in the mall.
The plaza, located directly across from MSU’s main campus, has connected generations of Morgan students who arrived without transportation to clothing stores, lounges, and restaurants far from campus. Over the years, the scene deteriorated and crime increased.
For Blackman, safety was a major concern. Year after year, students find themselves in precarious situations as they walk from campus and across the plaza to reach Marble Hall Gardens, the off-campus housing option on Loch Raven Boulevard. Blackman was happy to note that the Michigan State University police station will be on the new plaza.
A 2018 plan for the new development allocated 20,000 square feet of office space that houses the Morgan State University Police and Public Safety Office, as well as space for the Barnes & Noble College library with Starbucks opposite it.
Northwood Plaza even receives support from Governor Larry Hogan’s initiative to transform Baltimore’s city neighborhoods through the CORE (Creating Opportunities for Regeneration and Enterprise) project. The project is an attempt to make the city a beautiful place.
“This project is a true example of what is possible when neighborhoods, community, government and special interests come together,” said David Bramble, managing partner at MCB Real Estate.
For many years, Northwood Plaza was a detached mall the developers chose to build adjacent to the historic Black College that preceded the strip by decades. A preliminary sketch of the plaza was created in 1948, but the Morganites have settled on the current campus since 1917.
Beginning in the late 1940s, hundreds of Morgan, Johns Hopkins, and Goucher students began participating in sit-ins and other peaceful protests in the name of equal rights. The protests culminated in mass arrests, but the students refused to give in so that all races could enjoy the mall, sit in the Northwood Theater and eat on the rooftop of Hecht’s department store.
In 1975, the arena was sold to its current owners, Paul Diamond, David Diamond, Ben Schuster, and Sam Gloger. The partners attempted to redevelop the shopping center, including major renovations in 1992. In 2018, it was decided that the shopping center would undergo a $50 million redevelopment plan.
One of the main partners in the redevelopment is Morgan State University, the same institution from which previous developers built a brick wall for protection.
Today, MSU students learn in new, modern buildings where separate stores and restaurants once existed.
“Morgan students marched, protested and stood up for the simple right to buy a cup of coffee or see a movie. After that, more than 350 of them went to jail for that right,” President Wilson said, adding that many business owners in 2022 are people Colored.
Wilson also told AFRO that “this very supermarket is erasing a food desert” that formed after the mall stopped fighting integration and desegregation.
“When the students finally made the stores open for them, they all dried up and moved away because they still didn’t want black people to serve,” he said.
After a hard victory for future students, those who desegregated saw the shopping center become an abandoned, largely abandoned property with few options. Today, they rejoice in the return of life.
“Just take a look here and you’ll see the astonishing gathering of Northeast Baltimore, across races, through ages,
] across races. This is the community. “A community is a group of individuals and organizations that care for each other, support each other, work together forever and prove it,” Wilson said. “That’s what it means to me, to be the head of Morgan and to be at the center of this culturally inclusive development appropriate to this special sacred space.”
Trina Matthews had tears in her eyes as she shopped on opening day at the LiDL Food Market. “It’s been a long time,” said the 51-year-old Baltimore city employee. “I watched the last market going down the hill. You don’t know how cool this is to me. I can walk here. They have everything I need, including plants.”
“I’m not going back to Safeway,” Matthews said. “I can walk here.”
This newly developed Northwood Commons is now 80 percent occupied with businesses, including Harbor Bank of Maryland, a black-owned bank.
One of the companies coming to Northwood Commons is Tropical Smoothie Cafe, run by Alesha and David Magby. This will be the fourth location for franchisees, and is scheduled to open sometime in August or September. Both are graduates of Morgan State University.
“We want to set an example for young women and gentlemen in the region,” Magbe said. “For our employees, we stress the importance of education and whether you are seeking a higher education or educating yourself about an entrepreneurial idea, self-doubt does not bring you closer to your dreams and patience brings wisdom and virtue.”
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