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Boasting a metal roof, a new Lexington Market is taking shape

With steel framing in place, work progresses on the new South Market building at Lexington Market on Paca Street.
With steel framing in place, work progresses on the new South Market building at Lexington Market on Paca Street. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

There’s about a one-year countdown in progress for completion of a new Lexington Market. The steel framing and metal roof are up as a 2022 version of one of Baltimore’s most beloved downtown institutions takes shape.

“People are going to be surprised when they come downtown and see what’s happened in the past year,” said Colin Tarbert, president of the Baltimore Development Corp. “The new market has been a 10-year effort in planning and construction, and now that everybody sees the steel, it’s suddenly become real.”

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Downtown visitors who haven’t been to the Hippodrome or a baseball game will see changes. There’s a new apartment house, Prosper on Fayette Street at Paca. Next door, the old Drovers and Mechanics Bank is fast becoming a new hotel.

Tarbert, who heads the city agency overseeing urban redevelopment, is also the chair of the Baltimore Public Markets Corp. He notes that $60 million of capital improvements are going into Baltimore’s traditional, city-owned markets. Lexington gets $40 million, and Broadway, Hollins, Northeast, Lafayette-Avenue and Cross Street are sharing $20 million in improvements.

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“Baltimore’s system of six markets has lasted hundreds of years,” Tarbert said. “Each one is different and serves a different neighborhood.”

The new market is being constructed on the site of a long-lost Baltimore department store, Joel Gutman & Co., which closed in the early years of the 1930s Great Depression. For many years, the site was a parking lot.

“More vendors have applied for spaces than we thought,” Tarbert said. “The interest in locating in the new market has been strong.”

The fate of the existing 1950s Lexington Market structure is up in the air. Tarbert said no decision has been made whether it will survive the market transformation.

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While the new market building and the nearby apartment structure are large, visible changes, this ancient part of downtown Baltimore is a slow-moving renovation effort in progress.

The construction activity is not limited to Lexington Market.

The old Marconi Restaurant on Saratoga Street, several blocks from Lexington Market, closed in 2005. Construction has now begun there to make this culinary landmark into apartments.

In the same area, a new affordable-housing building, called L on Liberty, was completed. It fills a parking lot at Liberty and Clay streets.

A pair of Victorian decorative cast iron structures at 407 and 409 W. Baltimore St. also are becoming apartments. The buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Another quiet transformation has changed the 400 block of N. Howard St., a block long associated with a string of depressing, vacant properties. Developers have restored examples of the 19th-century mercantile shopfronts that imparted such character to what was one Baltimore’s go-to shopping destinations.

There remains work to be addressed within the Howard and Lexington district. Among the issues that need addressing is the former Gomprecht and Benesch furniture store, a significant Eutaw Street architectural landmark. It burned several ago and remains a shell awaiting a new use.

There’s also the question of timing. When will the block at Howard, Lexington streets and Park Avenue undergo the transformation that’s been promised for decades? There are promising and visible signs, but not much has happened. Late last year, a plan for this block’s refurbishment was announced, but the lengthy process of design and construction remains months away.

The site of the old New Theatre and Castleberg’s jewelry store is now a grassy lot called The Meadow. It’s an empty space that was once of the busiest corners downtown. Preservationists complained of the loss of beloved buildings. In the case of the New Theatre, who could forget the place you saw “The Sound of Music”?

“The architecture of downtown is remarkable. There is nothing like it in the city,” said Tarbert, who also predicted, “The West Side is coming into its own being.”

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