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John Thomas Shannon Jr.
Born: Jan. 24, 1963
Education: LaSalle University; John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; University of Pennsylvania Law School
Career Highlights: Executive vice president and chief operating officer, Cooper's Ferry Development Association, Camden, N.J.; inaugural director, Mayor's Business Action Team, Philadelphia; associate vice president for economic development, University of Pennsylvania.
Current Position: President and CEO, East Baltimore Development Inc.
Recent Honors: 2003 Eisenhower Fellow
Family: wife, Denise, and daughter, Moira
Hobbies: Cooking, gardening, "backstage mom" to budding ballerina daughter.

 

 

Jack Shannon: Change Agent


Jack Shannon, president and CEO of East Baltimore Development Inc., photographed on the corner of Chase and Rutland.

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 this program."

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."

-ABS

 

 

 

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