A decade ago, Democratic Rep. Parren J. Mitchell said he made a commitment to the once up, but now down-and-out Park Heights section of his district, that he would help bring back to life the dying neighborhood of high crime and low employment.
Since then Mayor William Donald Schaefer and local business people have helped lure new business, infusing with new morale this community of modest red brick rowhouses and mom-and-pop stores.
On Thursday, President Reagan is expected to travel here as part of the pitch for his proposed enterprise zone program to entice businesses to locate in depressed areas to create jobs. Park Heights is viewed as a politically logical destination for Reagan because the neighborhood and the city already are on the upswing.
"If the president comes to say this is what has come without the enterprise zone, and more can be accomplished with the enterprise zones, that's fine," said Mitchell, who said he was not invited by the White House to tour his district with the president.
"But if he's going to try to get something political out of this, he's wrong."
White House officials said Reagan plans to mention his enterprise zone program during the State of the Union address next Tuesday and that aides wanted him to visit a place where revitalization has begun, before the speech. Baltimore was selected because it's a short trip, the officials said.
But a source close to the issue said Park Heights would be "a very logical place" for Reagan to visit. "It would be a near cliche for Reagan to go to the South Bronx."
In addition, Baltimore has been characterized in national publications as a showplace for urban development, yet it has a pocket of despair and unemployment, the source said.
It is seen by city officials as an area with "a high degree of likelihood of succeeding" in the new "city that works," a city that has turned itself around without the aid of enterprise zones.
Park Heights has been a top priority in economic development in Baltimore and would be a "primary choice for designation" as an enterprise zone, according to Dave Paulson, project director for the Baltimore Economic Development Corp.
The president is reported to have approved in principle a plan to create up to 75 enterprise zones in rundown urban areas as an incentive to businesses to locate there and to create jobs for the residents.
The objective is to establish as many as 25 zones a year for the next three years, eliminate some taxes for businesses in the zones and to provide special tax credits to employers for hiring low-income workers or for buying equipment for the zone.
The city wants Park Heights to be designated an enterprise zone and eligible for federal assistance, although Baltimore officials aren't sitting back and waiting for a federal program to move through Congress.
"I think an enterprise zone will help because they will provide tax incentives for business," Paulson said. "In the meantime, we will use the approach we've been using."
City leaders are building an industrial park that they hope will receive the enterprise zone designation on a 40-acre parcel bordered by Reisterstown Road, Druid Park Drive, Liberty Heights Avenue and Wabash Avenue.
Already, Control Data Corp. and its subsidiary Commercial Credit Corp. have located on the site and Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. has built a new facility on the edge of the industrial park. Cindarn Plastics and United Sounds of America, a stereo manufacturer, are there.
The city's goal is to create 1,750 jobs on the site. So far they have about 100, Paulson said.
Park Heights' economy began sinking during the late 1950s and early 1960s when middle-income residents were replaced by low- to middle-income persons, Paulson said.
Many of the businesses changed hands several times, although the area has begun to stabilize. A building on Park Circle once was ABC Discount Furniture and Appliance Co., but it was also Hannah's Food Mart and a sandwich shop according to signs still pasted on and above the windows.
Another shop, Randy's Religious Store, is vacant next to a door with a sign with multishaded clasped hands that reads, "Overturn the Reagan program of cutbacks, racism and war."