Members of Maryland’s congressional delegation and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott visited the Avenue Market Monday to tout an infusion of $2 million in federal funds for the site.
That money, part of the fiscal year 2022 omnibus bill, will help pay for a $9.6 million transformation of the market that will begin next year, said Paul Ruppert, president and CEO of the Baltimore Public Markets Corporation, which runs the markets on behalf of the city. The rest of the money will come from a mix of state, city and federal funds as well as philanthropic support, Ruppert said.
Speaking at the market on Monday, Rep. Kweisi Mfume, a Democrat who grew up nearby, recalled that the Avenue had been the place where he had his first ever job, which helped him support his family after the death of his mom.
“All of those businesses growing up meant so very much and bringing businesses back will have a great impact today on this historic market, keeping it vibrant and alive,” he said, according to a release on Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen’s website.
The market will stay open during the overhaul, which will begin in the rear section, which is now vacant. Then, current vendors will move over to the renovated section while the redevelopment is completed in mid-2024.
In the past few years, Baltimore has outsourced the redevelopment of markets like Cross Street and Lexington markets to outside developers. But in contrast to those projects, Ruppert said the Baltimore Public Markets Corporation will take a more hands-on role with the redesign of the Avenue Market.
“We will be doing the redevelopment in-house so to speak,” he said.
The effort is the latest to reinvigorate the market in the 1700 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, an area once known as Baltimore’s preeminent Black business district.
Previously called Lafayette Market, it was opened in 1871 and last renovated in 1994, when it was renamed the Avenue Market. But the $4 million rebuild did little to generate traffic and sales. Merchants later sued the market’s managers, claiming developers misled them to get them to sign leases.
When it comes to vendors, Ruppert said his group is seeking nonprofit partners like the No Boundaries Coalition, which currently is the only produce stall at the market, operating two days a week.
“We recognize that in order to solve the challenge of access to healthy food we need to be working as part of a system,” Ruppert said. “We are in a listening mode right now where we’re meeting with as many community organizations and individuals as possible to learn about what the neighbors want.”
The city classifies neighborhoods surrounding the Avenue Market as “healthy food priority area,” formerly “food deserts,” due to the lack of grocery stores, lower income levels and high number of households without a car. The median income of residents living around the market is just over $32,000, which is 58% lower than in the rest of the city.
Wanda Best, executive director of the Upton Planning Committee, said in a statement the redevelopment of the Avenue Market should become “a flagship” in efforts to revitalize historic Pennsylvania Avenue. A dietitian, Best said she expected to see “more fresh fruits and vegetables” in the neighborhood.
Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin linked plans for the Avenue Market to broader efforts underway in West Baltimore neighborhoods Upton, Penn North and Sandtown, noting that P.S. 103, the elementary school attended by Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, is set to become a community center.
According to a release, Scott said the investment would help pave the way “for an inclusive renaissance in West Baltimore and throughout the City.”