"Very often when you're telling people they're going to an event on North Avenue, they gasp," said Peter M. Merles, administrator of the Midtown Community Benefits District, whose boundaries encompass much of Station North.

"But once they get there and see the changes that have taken place [within the arts district], they are amazed," he said.

Brown, who opened his business nearly five years ago in a block that was 80 percent vacant, described the district as "pockets of poverty and islands of excellence" but said "it needs to be seamless throughout."

While the block is now 100 percent occupied, he said, "there are still some very challenged areas" 10 years after the district's establishment.

But, he added, "I don't think we've hit our stride yet."

Steve Carson, who owns Bohemian Coffee House on North Charles Street, said the Final Fridays events would be a great opportunity to support local artists, who he said don't usually get paid to perform, and to attract performers who normally wouldn't come to the area — "which means better music," he said.

He's owned the coffee house since September. "It's been fun," Carson said. "It kind of puts you in the loop."

But Carson thinks that perceptions of the area remain a problem, though he says he feels safer in the Station North district than in other city neighborhoods.

"I think it's getting better, but it still has a stigma," Carson said.

Andy Rubin, owner of Cyclops, a bookstore, art gallery and music venue on West North Avenue, said that the neighborhood has undergone a "naturally steady progression" and that First Fridays would help.

"It's an ongoing mission," he said. "We've got to change people's perspectives about the neighborhood."

Back at the Bohemian Coffee House, Charles Village resident Will Miller, 29, who was reading during a Sunday jazz lunch, said he had mixed feelings about efforts to talk up the district.

Gentrification is "inevitable in a way, but it's not necessarily desirable," he said.

Dan Price, 23, of Cockeysville, thought the Final Fridays events, would attract visitors if well publicized. But he admitted he wasn't entirely comfortable with the neighborhood.

"Sometimes I do feel a little uneasy parking around here, just maybe a little uptight about people breaking into my car," Price said.

Bill Hardy, a teacher who was grading papers while his 13-year-old daughter attended a movie at the nearby Charles Theater, said the initiative "certainly can't hurt."

Hardy said the district was well situated to bring in visitors, given the popularity of the First Thursdays events in Mount Vernon and the proximity of Charles Village to Station North. "It could draw from both," he said.

Liz.kay@baltsun.com

http://www.twitter.com/lfkay

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