Jack Shannon: Change Agent
On a morning in late July, a crowd assembles in a newly-renovated,
former elementary school on the corner of Chase and Rutland. The occasion
is a press conference but it feels more like a party. Everyone is here:
Maryland's U.S. senators Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes, Baltimore
Mayor Martin O'Malley, state senators, members of the City Council,
business leaders, local residents.
The master of ceremonies is Jack Shannon, new president
and CEO of East Baltimore Development Inc. In this group, Shannon is
the real newbie. He came in May from the University of Pennsylvania.
But as the head of EBDI, the organization charged with revitalizing
100 blighted acres north of the medical campus through a comprehensive
array of human services programs, new housing and a biotechnology center,
Shannon, as much as anyone in the room, has the power to turn around
this city's economic and neighborhood health.
Shannon opens with the key announcement: EBDI has received
a $21.5 million government "Section 108" loan guarantee. The
news is greeted with cheers. Everyone knows how important the money
is. The project, probably the largest urban redevelopment program currently
proposed nationwide, has been in the works for three years, and the
loan will launch its first phase, paying for the acquisition of buildings,
lots and businesses and for the relocation of families.
Up until recently, there was a good deal of anxiety among
residents over where, how and when they would be relocated. Shannon
can empathize. "We are compelling families to move. As someone
who recently relocated his own family, I fully understand just how disruptive
a move can be, and the one I made was my own choice, not a forced relocation."
Shannon has taken steps to allay the community's anxiety.
Early this month he will move his offices into the heart of the neighborhood,
to the East Baltimore Community Resource Center in the formerly vacant
school at Chase and Rutland. This will be a community meeting place,
complete with an outdoor play area, where residents can get information
about project details, including housing options. It will be headquarters
for counselors and others who will work with families from the start
of relocation and beyond.
Clear and comprehensive materials, including a Web site
(www.ebdi.org), have been developed
to keep residents informed. With the City of Baltimore and Living Classrooms,
Shannon is launching a lot-cleaning program so that families will have
a clean, green environment even in a period of disruption. And two of
EBDI's key partners in the project, Hopkins and the Baltimore-based
Annie E. Casey Foundation, one of the nation's largest, each have contributed
$5 million toward relocation benefits.
"That's been a tremendously important component of
our program. It offers families critically needed additional resources
to help insure a successful relocation and settlement into their new
communities," says Shannon. "Over the last six months, we've
been able to develop a stronger relationship with the community. People
are becoming more confident in the ability of EBDI and the City to implement
Before coming to Baltimore, Shannon was associate vice
president for economic development at the University of Pennsylvania.
As part of a team that worked on community initiatives, he helped develop
a live-near-your-work program; dealt with the politically charged clash
between on-street vendors and retailers adjacent to the campus; helped
steer the university's business to minority, women-owned and locally
based businesses; acquired properties; and worked to launch a state-wide,
$100 million program designed to foster greater biotechnology business.
He is keenly interested in how partnerships between academia,
business and government can leverage research to new business opportunities.
He is a 2003 Eisenhower fellow, and had he not taken the EBDI job, that
issue is one he would have studied last summer while on a fellowship-sponsored
sabbatical in Ireland, a country that has been able to overcome a brain
drain, keep its best and brightest and bring back others.
Shannon grew up in Camden, N.J., in a neighborhood not
unlike East Baltimore, in a row house not unlike those that line the
streets around the medical campus. He returned to Camden after college
and worked for the Camden Waterfront Redevelopment project. He was elected
to the school board, was briefly managing director of the City of Camden,
and practiced law. Camden, he says, was much like East Baltimore. "It
had suffered from disinvestment over a period of time, but it was also
a community that had great pride in its neighborhoods and was blessed
with a strong core of committed leadership."
His interest in urban development was honed, he says,
"after seeing what happens to once-great communities such as Camden
when businesses pull out or when government turns a blind eye to the
needs of the neighborhoods. And also after realizing that if we are
a nation that has the greatest prosperity of any in the world but at
the same time can't take care of the needs of our most vulnerable in
places like Camden and East Baltimore, then our nation's long term future
is in jeopardy."
When Shannon was looking at the EBDI job, his wife said:
"I've been married to you for a dozen years now, and I've never
really quite figured out what you do for a living. But based on what
I do know about what makes you tick, this job sounds like it's been
made for you." He has all the right credentials, but Shannon says
nothing, really, could fully prepare him, or anyone, for the daunting
task ahead. "It's so huge, so ambitious, and so critically important."