Baltimore presents new plan for future Lexington Market redevelopment

Baltimore officials laid out new plans with a private developer Wednesday to remake the Lexington Market that will cost less than prior proposals to revamp the aging but historic venue.

The city has chosen Seawall Development, the firm behind the R. House food hall and other projects in Remington, to construct a new, smaller shed for vendors on an adjacent parking lot while opening Lexington Street to pedestrians, retaining the market’s east building and offering the west building, across Paca Street, for a separate redevelopment project.

While Seawall will oversee its redevelopment, Lexington Market, one of the oldest markets still operating in the country, will remain in city hands, managed by Lexington Market Inc., an affiliate of Baltimore Public Markets Corp.

The plan announced Wednesday is the latest for the market, which traces its history to 1782. Prior plans to raze and rebuild the market, whose primary buildings now date to the 1950s, have stalled, leaving tenants unhappy with plumbing and other problems and customers put off by the dingy interior, the occasional rat sighting and drug dealing outside.

Mayor Catherine Pugh announced the new plan Wednesday at a news conference with Seawall co-founder Thibault Manekin, Downtown Partnership of Baltimore President Kirby Fowler, City Councilman Eric Costello, and Robert Thomas, Baltimore Public Markets’ executive director.

“Lexington Market is one of our city’s most iconic neighborhood markets,” Pugh said in a statement, “and we’re committed to creating an environment that reflects the needs and desires of the community, while reimagining all that City markets can and should be for those who depend on them.”

Officials are more confident that this latest plan for Lexington Market will come to fruition because it significantly lowers the project cost. Pugh said she expects the redevelopment to cost $30 million to $40 million, about $20 million less than earlier proposals.

“We just didn’t have that kind of money,” Fowler said.

The city has already raised $17 million and applied for federal funding to close the gap, Pugh said.

Construction could begin in late 2019 or early 2020 and is expected to last about two years, Thomas said.

Like prior plans, the newest one calls for constructing a new market shed on a city parking lot south of the existing market. At about 45,000 square feet, the new building’s footprint would be smaller than a 97,000-square-foot structure proposed for the market in late 2016. Preliminary plans would also open Lexington Street as a pedestrian mall between Paca and Eutaw streets, and retain and redevelop the market’s east building, which was previously slated to be razed.

“Perhaps it will be a few vendors who will remain in there; perhaps it will be new workforce development space or new community space or new space for a brewpub or arts uses — who knows?” Fowler said. “But we thought it was very important. That structure has a lot of character to it, and it would cost us a lot to tear it down.”

The design process is underway, and plans could be altered as a result of discussions with vendors and community stakeholders, Manekin said.

During the last several years, market tenants have been involved in conversations about the market’s future, but Wednesday would be the first time Seawall’s team met with them about the most recent concept, Manekin said.

After a competitive bidding process, Lexington Market Inc. brought on the company in early 2018 to help envision the market’s next phase.

“We really believe that reimagined real estate can unite cities,” Manekin said. “And of all the projects we’ve ever had the opportunity to work on, this is the one that’s going to prove that the most.”

The city is making monthly payments to Seawall for its consulting work and will pay the firm another sum following the market’s completion. City officials declined to disclose the value of Seawall’s contract. Seawall will oversee the project from beginning to end, supervising architects, engineers and contractors; assisting with financing; and recruiting and retaining tenants.

It is one of six public markets in Baltimore and one of four either slated for or undergoing renovations. Cross Street Market in Federal Hill, Broadway Market in Fells Point and Hollins Market in West Baltimore are in various stages of being overhauled by private-public partnerships. The Avenue Market in Upton is also being considered for upgrades, and Northeast Market was renovated in 2013.

“We’re not giving up on any of the markets,” Fowler said. “We’re working aggressively to transform them, and this was not happening 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago.”

As the market is overhauled, Parker said he wants to see the space incorporate more entertainment and activities that build community, and extend its hours to capture the city’s happy hour crowd. The market operates Monday through Saturday and closes at 6 p.m. daily.

“It’s a place of love, a place of joy,” Parker said. “The changes are going to give more folks the confidence to come down, take a look and say, ‘Hey, this is a good place to be.’ ”

After a competitive bidding process, Lexington Market Inc. brought on the company in early 2018 to help envision the market’s next phase.

“We really believe that reimagined real estate can unite cities,” Manekin said. “And of all the projects we’ve ever had the opportunity to work on, this is the one that’s going to prove that the most.”

The city is making monthly payments to Seawall for its consulting work and will pay the firm another sum following the market’s completion. City officials declined to disclose the value of Seawall’s contract. Seawall will oversee the project from beginning to end, supervising architects, engineers and contractors; assisting with financing; and recruiting and retaining tenants.

As a third-generation owner of Lexington Market stalwart Faidley’s Seafood, Nancy Devine said she was pleased to hear the market’s current buildings would be preserved. She wasn’t a fan of the last design proposed for the market’s new shed.

“I like the idea that they’ve got somebody that respects the history of the building and the area, and this is what was missing before,” Devine said. “The last time I looked at it, it was a glass box, and I thought, ‘No, no, no ... this isn’t what we want.’”

Devine’s daughter, Damye Hahn, who represents Faidley’s fourth generation of family ownership, agreed.

“To honor the history is the big thing for us,” Hahn said. “One of the big reasons we’ve stayed here is because of the history.”

Khari Parker, who co-owns the market stall Connie’s Chicken and Waffles, hadn’t met with Seawall’s team as of Thursday afternoon. But based on the firm’s other work, he was optimistic about Lexington Market’s future with Seawall at the helm.

“R. House is such a wonderful beautiful design so I can only imagine what they’re going to do here,” he said.

The perception of crime that surrounds Lexington Market has been its biggest problem, Parker said, and he’s hopeful renovations will change that.

Tenants also have complained about everything from the plumbing to the air conditioning in the aging market. Sales plunged 50 percent this summer after a viral video showed a rat tiptoeing across cakes in a bakery stall.

As the market is revamped, the city plans to issue a separate request for proposals for groups to redevelop and lease the market’s west parcels Wednesday. Proposals would be due Jan. 3. The city would retain ownership of the property, but Fowler said city officials would hope to engage in profit-sharing with new tenants. The city currently generates about $700,000 annually from the site and hopes to maintain that income.

The redevelopment of Lexington Market has taken years to materialize because of the market’s size and history, Fowler said.

smeehan@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sarahvmeehan

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
39°