Festival Hall destined for the wrecker's ball Moving it rejected as too expensive


Baltimore's Festival Hall, where countless thousands of people have celebrated the American melting pot during eight years of ethnic fetes, will be demolished rather than moved to make way for the $151 million Convention Center expansion.

The building was designed with the idea of eventually dismantling and moving it from the block bounded by Howard, Camden, Sharp and Conway streets, but consultants for the Baltimore Development Corp. say that option is too costly.

"The existing building cannot be dismantled and relocated elsewhere except at great expense," said Michael Seipp, executive vice president of BEDCO. "The building was not constructed in a manner that allows it to be disassembled and resurrected."

Construction experts who evaluated the 52,000-square-foot, shed like structure found that the concrete and metal building had sides that could not be put back in the same manner in which they were originally installed. The building also needed a new roof, which alone would cost $250,000.

BEDCO, a quasi-governmental agency that coordinates downtown redevelopment, has hired a consultant to study the cost and potential locations for a new hall.

Designed by Cochran, Stephenson and Donkervoet, Festival Hall was built in 1985 at a cost of $4.5 million as a low-cost neighbor to the Convention Center intended for events that could not be accommodated there, such as smaller trade shows and the annual summer series of ethnic festivals.

Irish jigs, German beer, Indian pow-wows and celebrations of African roots all could be found at Festival Hall over the course of a summer season. And large events such as the annual car show and this summer's baseball All-Star Fan Fest used both the Convention Center and Festival Hall, which are linked by an underground pedestrian passageway.

The city had been considering moving Festival Hall to another Howard Street location as part of a rejuvenation effort for the old downtown shopping district. That corridor may yet be home to a replacement building. Sites being considered include the southeast corner of Howard and Centre streets and a city-owned parking lot on the south side of Lexington Market between Eutaw and Paca streets.

But, for at least the coming summer, ethnic festivals will have to take up other digs where the only air conditioning will be what nature provides. The mayor's Office of Tourism and Promotion said earlier that festival organizers would have to choose from "whatever sites are made available by the city," including the downtown Hopkins Plaza and parks that already are used for some ethnic events.

Demolition of Festival Hall is scheduled to begin April 1 and is expected to take two to three weeks, according to the Maryland Stadium Authority, which is overseeing the Convention Center project.

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