The news on Thursday that the Baltimore Development Corporation approved
is a welcome sign of promise for downtown's future. An awful lot more will have to be done to make that neighborhood even a shadow of its former self, but each and every step forward is worth cheering.
With an estimated cost of $7 million, the venture involves reclaiming three abandoned properties and turning them into a "theater incubator" with three performing spaces, each with its own marquee; offices and meeting rooms where more arts projects can be hatched; and a cafe.
Carly J. Bales, artistic director of the EMP Collective, one of the groups spearheading the renovation, reacted to the BDC's decision with just the slightest touch of glee:
"Can you print '**** yeah! It's go time!' in the Baltimore Sun?" [Actually, no, Carly, but nice try.] We're delighted the City is supporting this ambitious and important theater project in Baltimore and can't wait to transform our little piece of Howard Street into a thriving and viable hub for artists and performing arts-lovers."
Ted Rouse, lead developer for the project, had this comment:
"We are very excited to get to work and, in fact, have already produced design development documents and historic review documentation to enable us to submit for National Park Service and Maryland Historic Trust approval of our proposed plans.
"We will revive a part of town that used to be famous for its live performances with live performances of the 21st century. In addition, through our innovative co-working spaces on the upper levels, we have the small, but important, goal of reinventing capitalism so that it works for all residents of Planet Earth, not just the upper management of large corporations."
As you can see, this is not just another redevelopment project, but something conceived as a downright noble cause. There's something very cool and heartening about such idealism and commitment. Considering that the arts groups involved are part of the DIY, decidedly low-budget movement in town, there's something very brave about all of this, too.
Right now, the prospect of three reclaimed buildings in that neighborhood may not seem like a big deal, but I am hoping that it will be seen around the city as a major step worth emulating.
If block after block of D.C.'s downtown could be revitalized over the years, there is no reason why Baltimore can't enjoy something similar.
I remember all too well scurrying along the yucky blocks of crummy shops and crummier eating places in between the once-grand department stores of my home town's shopping district back in the day. Returning now, the changes on and around Washington's F and G streets seem almost magical to me. And this extraordinary change has occurred despite the closing of all those department stores of yore.
Something of that transformation in the District could surely happen in Baltimore on the very streets that once thrived with activity. The ground has already been laid, thanks to the performing arts, with the Hippodrome and Everyman Theatre doing terrific stuff there. The arrival in the next two or three years of the new Howard Street theaters will only underline the potential.
The city needs to get working now and working hard on rehabilitating Lexington Market, and finding bold, vibrant new uses for Hutzler's and other once-proud buildings that remain in that area.
The next great chapter in the history of downtown Baltimore is just waiting to be written. The first, tantalizing paragraphs were provided on Thursday when the proposed Howard Street theater hub got the green light.