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Former Cross Street Market vendors seek up to $250,000 in lawsuit against the city

Four former Cross Street Market vendors are asking the city to pay their moving and relocation expenses, according to lawsuits filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

The current and former owners of Cross Street Seafood, Baltimore’s Best Bar-B-Que, Cross 10 Grocery and Bruce Lee Wings are seeking up to $250,000 in damages from Baltimore Public Market Corp. The city-operated organization “forced” the merchants to move when renovations began this year without assisting with moving expenses, according to the lawsuits.

A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday at noon.

Mayor Catherine Pugh and the City Council of Baltimore are also listed as defendants in the lawsuits, which were filed in March.

“Because of the failure of the City to observe the law requiring the payment of moving and relocation expenses as provided in the State Code, Plaintiff was forced to move its business without the assistance of the moving and relocation expenses,” according to all four of the lawsuits.

Sara Gross, chief solicitor in the city's legal department, declined to comment. City solicitor Andre Davis did not respond to requests for comment.

Baltimore Public Markets spokeswoman Stacey Pack declined to comment about the lawsuit.

The merchants claim they lost thousands of dollars when the market’s new operator, CSM Ventures LLC, either terminated their leases or asked them to pay higher rents as part of the market’s redevelopment. John C. Murphy, who is representing the vendors in the lawsuit, said the restaurateurs left behind expensive equipment and lost out on investments in their businesses.

Baltimore in 2016 entered an agreement with Towson-based Caves Valley Partners that allowed the firm to operate and redevelop Cross Street Market while the city retained ownership. CSM Ventures is a subsidiary of Caves Valley.

The former vendors claim their displacement was a “direct result of the rehabilitation of the market,” according to the lawsuit, so they should be reimbursed.

A spokesperson from Caves Valley Partners could not be reached for comment.

Many of the market’s vendors have relocated or closed for good since construction began earlier this year. Cross 10 Grocery owner Inkyung Lee moved elsewhere in Federal Hill after she said CSM asked her to leave the market, according to the lawsuit. Bruce Lee Wings, Cross Street Seafood and Baltimore’s Best Bar-B-Que have closed, Murphy said.

Jung Bae Kim, who used to own Bruce Lee Wings, said in the lawsuit that CSM offered him a lease. However he said he couldn’t keep up with the rent after the firm told him he could only serve wings and had to stop serving breakfast and lunch. Murphy said Kim is now looking for work in North Carolina.

Nam Hee Cho, former owner of Cross Street Seafood, said he paid $140,000 for his stall nine years ago. Now he is “walking out with zero,” Murphy said.

“They’re not wealthy people,” Murphy said. “They are very small businesses. I don't think I’ve ever seen people get wiped out this way.”

The renovations at Cross Street Market have been a point of contention for residents and merchants. While some have applauded the city for announcing plans to repair the market, others voiced concerns over tenant closings. Several vendors have been temporarily or permanently displaced; only six remain during construction, according to the market’s website.

llumpkin@baltsun.com

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