Arc breaks ground on Port Street Commons

Star Democrat, June 7, 2023

EASTON — On Tuesday, June 6, around 100 people came out to celebrate the groundbreaking of the Arc’s new 24,000-square-foot building on Port Street that will create housing for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and also create more affordable housing in Easton.

There were many speakers who spoke of the project’s virtues. These included Maryland’s First Lady Dawn Moore, State Comptroller Brooke Lierman, Easton Mayor Megan Cook, Maryland Department of Disabilities Secretary Carol Beatty, Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development Secretary Jake Day, The Arc President and CEO Jonathon Rondeau, and Sam Shoge and Ross Benincasa from Rivers & Roads Consulting.

The celebration marked the start of construction on the Port Street Commons, a community space in Easton featuring offices, a community hub and affordable housing units. The Arc went public with its $8.5 million capital campaign, “Expanding What’s Possible,” at this event.

According to a news release, Port Street Commons is a 24,000-square-foot multi-purpose space located in the heart of Easton. This project will provide greater access to services and resources for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and the affordable housing community. The project will include The Arc at Port Street (The Arc’s new, permanent Eastern Shore headquarters) and The Residences at Port Street (nine 2- and 3-bedroom affordable housing units). Port Street commons is the first project to be developed along the corridor. This project will support the local economy, create a minimum of 35 new permanent jobs, increase choice and access for people with IDD, and increase access to affordable housing.

Port Street Commons is being developed by The Arc Central Chesapeake Region, an organization serving people with IDD throughout the region, in partnership with Chesapeake Neighbors, a local nonprofit developer committed to bringing high-quality, affordable rental housing to the community.

Moore said, “I want to take a moment to recognize not just the names of the people here today, but the entities and assets they represent. We have folks from the public sector. We have folks from the private sector. We have folks from the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Washington. This is what progress looks like. Progress looks like partnership. Progress looks like teamwork. Progress looks like people coming together and finding solutions to big problems. I am proud that the state has been a partner in this effort. The Moore Miller administration has provided this project with $1.5 million in funds.”

She sat down in the front row to applause. Lierman also spoke.

“Before I was Comptroller, I was a practicing disability lawyer and had the opportunity to work with The Arc of Baltimore and Arcs around the state of Maryland to make sure that we were helping all those Marylanders with differing abilities to fulfill their God-given potential. In the office of the Comptroller, we took this very seriously because our vision is to focus on partnering with our government partners at every level. To make sure that we are partnering with our community groups like The Arc and others to build a state that is more equitable, more resilient and more prosperous so every Marylander can reach their full potential,” Lierman said.

Easton Mayor Megan Cooke said the mission of The Arc has an empowering culture. By providing homes and offices focused on the disabled, it makes Easton a more inclusive and diverse place to live. She spoke of the importance of having attainable housing in the town. She welcomed the nine new units at the Port Street Commons.

“The new offices and creation of additional jobs and training spaces offered by this facility will allow for the necessary growth of this important organization to help meet the needs of this community. Especially those who have disabilities and are also in need of behavioral health services. With significant contributions from former Governor Larry Hogan, Governor Wes Moore and federal funds secured by Senators Cardin and Van Hollen,” Cooke said.

Secretary Day took the podium and reflected that he had a conversation with Cooke 15 years ago about how to improve the Port Street corridor.

“I am proud to be here at a moment that indicates a continued upswing of this community and the continued rise of the Port Street neighborhood. When it is complete, this site is going to serve people who have often not received the services they need particularly in rural regions. When Secretary Beatty says that we need to be doing more for affordable housing that is accessible, that is designed with universal design features, she means it. This will be a spark in a part of Easton that has needed that spark, that revitalization effort. I also want to note that by providing the nine residences here in partnership with Talbot Interfaith Shelter and ensuring that people are transitioning out of homelessness into permanent housing and stable affordable housing,” said Day.

Julie Lowe, executive director of Talbot Interfaith Shelter, said they serve people with all types of intellectual and developmental disabilities as well as people in recovery and people who are stuck with the traumas of poverty.

Rondeau shared his experience of growth from 15 people served in 2017 to over 400 now.

“After years of planning, collaboration and strategic growth, the time has finally come for us to fulfill our vision of having an Eastern Shore headquarters here in Easton to increase access and resources for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. It will also provide needed housing through our housing subsidiary, Chesapeake Neighbors. We are projected to begin construction within weeks — so early July — and officially opening in the fall of 2024. I am excited to say that Port Street Commons $8.5 million dollar building campaign, ‘Expanding What’s Possible,’ is officially launching. This campaign, which quietly began in December 2021, has raised $4.7 million from federal, state and local community groups and individual donors,” Rondeau said.

Then it was time for the golden shovels to break ground. A happy group of invested members gladly let some mulch fly as the camera flashes burst.