There's a lesson to be learned in Fells Point's past and present along its main business street. South Broadway, between Aliceanna and Fleet streets, looks like a scene out of World War II Eastern Europe. On both the east and west sides of the street, the once-familiar rowhouse businesses are gutted. Steel beams support what remains, a thin brick crust of 19th-century brick facades. Stand on Broadway, and you'll see straight through to Regester or Dallas streets. But not for long.
After decades of waiting and unkept promises from past developers, residents are now looking to a rebirth here, with 159 new apartments constructed in two sets of blocks behind the old shop fronts. Broadway Market will also be revived with new spaces for food vendors. It's being called the Marketplace at Fells Point.
Residents told me they have seen the economics of the neighborhood change, so that this fairly expensive exercise in new construction dovetailed with a historic district is now possible. They have also observed tired, empty storefronts sit vacant for years. Retail establishments such as Crabby Dick's and the 9th Life moved on. But now expensive development has moved away from the ledge along the harbor and settled into the heart of the South Broadway commercial corridor.
"In the past 12 years, I've watched the bars become restaurants, the taverns become bars and hole-in-the-wall liquor stores become taverns," said attorney Arthur Perschetz, president of the Fell's Point Residents Association.
When he moved to the neighborhood in 2000, after leaving a home in Guilford, his Lancaster Street rowhouse was not ready and he had some trouble finding an apartment to rent for a few months. Now, he says, he could have his choice of many new rental units.
But it goes beyond rentals. He points to new additions with a major investment like the Thames Street Oyster House, which he calls a find for seafood devotees.
"I think of Fells Point 12 years ago, and Harbor East did not exist. My wife and I would walk to the Inner Harbor, and the only thing we passed was Bohager's, the nightclub," he said. "On a summer night, from a boat in the harbor, you'll see weddings and receptions, at Living Classrooms, Pier 5 or the industrial museum."
He has observed a change in Fells Point. While people were once buying dilapidated homes and renovating them, there is far less of this activity. The neighborhood has done so well financially that developers are successfully negotiating the neighborhood's stringent preservation codes (and vocal residents) to pull off successes like reuse of the old St. Stanislaus Church complex, now the New Century School, health club and new homes.
One of the area's oldest vacant parcels, the former Arundel concrete plant on Wolfe Street, is now under construction as Union Wharf, a Bozzoto-built complex of shops, apartments and a garage.
"Fells Point is definitely drawing the empty-nesters and people who really want the best of city life, who want to walk to their shopping," he said. "The Circulator bus has made a huge difference, too."
David Holmes, a developer of the old Broadway Market, envisions the commercial heart of the neighborhood reborn. "I want to see the market house opened up again and have it breathing on four sides," he said.
Perschetz says a Saturday morning farmers' market established itself this past spring as the "community's living room."
"I'd like to see the Broadway Market come back as something like the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia," he said.
"We often saw the people from the water taxi walk as far north as Aliceanna Street but then turn around and go back because there was not much this far into the neighborhood," said Bill Cassidy, a real estate branch manager and nearby resident. "For people who live here, the expansion of commercial activity is really going to be enjoyable. It's a pleasure to be in this neighborhood if you need the littlest thing."