Developers publicly unveiled plans Thursday for a revitalized but smaller Lexington Market, a historic Baltimore institution on downtown’s Westside that has been showing its age.
It’s the latest attempt to overhaul the market, with the last concept considered far too expensive by city leaders. This upgrade to a modern new warehouse-style building is considered a more realistic plan, but one that still brings a new crop of fresh and prepared food vendors to the market, while maintaining some popular staples.
If this next evolution of one of the nation’s oldest public markets goes according to city leaders’ plans, it will also spur more development in the surrounding area.
“This is the ultimate positive opportunity for Baltimore,” said Jon Constable, a principal for Seawall Development, hired by the city in October to rethink the market. Seawall also built the popular Remington food hall R.House.
Constable told the city’s Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel, that the team traveled to other public markets around the country for inspiration inside and out.
Lexington Market has suffered a rough patch that has cost it some tenants who grew frustrated with the deteriorating structure and customers who feared crime around the market. A recent viral video of a rat scurrying through a food case brought more unwanted publicity.
Developers plan to use part of the current three-building footprint to build a whole new building. It will span the block between Paca and Eutaw streets and open onto a plaza with outdoor seating.
To start, tenants will be consolidated in the adjacent old East Market building. They will continue operating there until the new market opens, likely in the summer of 2021, developers said.
The new building and plaza will be constructed on a parking lot and on Lexington Street, where the so-called Arcade building now stands. That building will be demolished. The city intends to maintain the old East Market building, which officials consider historic, though there are no immediate uses planned for it.
Another building on the other side of Paca that contains a parking garage also will be maintained. Some merchants housed there will move to the new building.
The cost, under $40 million, is millions less that the last design presented to the city in 2017. The new project so far has $17 million in city and state funds and $10 million in federal loans committed. The project is slated to break ground in early 2020.
When it opens there will be space for 45 to 60 tenants, fewer than could fit in the current market.
The developer is talking to tenants about who wants to stay, what menus need updating and what it would cost, Constable said. Such issues have caused uncomfortable talks and some lawsuits at other Baltimore public markets, including Cross Street Market, that currently are being renovated.
“The best thing Baltimore City can do now is to go to Lexington Market,” Constable said. “It exists, they’re open and they need people to keep coming.”
The city agency Baltimore Public Markets Corp. will maintain ownership of the market and operate it after Seawall builds and leases the space.
City leaders believe a revitalized market will help attract other investment to the west side, where development has come in fits and starts. They want the market to be a centerpiece, appealing to people living nearby, working downtown or studying at a the University of Maryland, Baltimore.
They hope, for example, people will come for dinner after a show at the Hippodrome Theatre.
“The plans presented today for Lexington Market are an important step in transforming this historic community institution and making sure that it remains a significant part of Baltimore life for generations to come,” said Mayor Catherine Pugh in a statement. “The importance of Lexington Market has always been about much more than just a building, and these plans for the new South Market structure make clear that a new era is on the horizon for this vital community gathering space and resource.”