Flower Mart supporters react to proposed move


If the Women's Civic League moves Baltimore's Flower Mart next May from Mount Vernon to the War Memorial Plaza, it would mark an end to years of tradition.

Of the 78 Flower Marts held since 1911, all but 10 have been around the Washington Monument. From 1971 to 1980, they were held in Charles Center.

A move from Mount Vernon would run counter to efforts by three mayors to rejuvenate the Charles Street corridor. With its lemon sticks, crab cakes and women in colorful hats, the Flower Mart is a rite of spring, and many merchants and cultural institutions have come to expect the exposure it brings.

The league's executive board voted July 8 to move the one-day event to War Memorial Plaza, a site suggested by the Schmoke administration. The full membership has not yet voted to ratify that decision.

"It's time for us to concentrate on profit and maybe a different kind of crowd," league President Carolyn Simmons explained earlier this week. "We haven't had the sales we need for the past five years."

What follows are reactions from business owners, civic leaders and others to the proposed move:

Charles Duff, board member of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Improvement Association. "We think it's a terrible idea and we want to keep it here. The Flower Mart is Mount Vernon's open house to the whole city . . . . The neighborhood will be fine without it, but it would be stronger with it."

Donna Beth Joy Shapiro, board member of Baltimore Heritage: "The Flower Mart is the only festival around the Washington Monument. It is Mount Vernon. When it moved to Charles Center in the 1970s, there was no ruach, which is a Yiddish word that means spirit. If they move it again, they might as well not have it at all."

Anthony Ambridge, City Council member: "Activities like this belong in residential communities, not a downtown plaza. Mount Vernon was a perfect setting. They do have to block off Charles Street. But when it benefits and invigorates the community, it's worth the effort."

Connie Caplan, an executive who heads Friends of Mount Vernon, a group that spearheaded restoration of the Washington Monument: "The Flower Mart is one of the highlights of Mount Vernon. It brings life to the square, and it brings people who don't come down any day but that day. . . . I hope they reconsider."

Robert C. Embry Jr. president, Abell Foundation: "To the extent that this takes an event that attracts people to an area where there are a lot of struggling merchants, and moves it to an area where there are none . . . it's not something that I would urge."

James Rouse, civic leader: "I believe that a city has to hold onto its useful traditions fiercely in order that it remain a city. If it keeps escaping from what is best for a city, this is the way the values and life and spirit of a city disappear.

"One could say that going to War Memorial Plaza is not an escape. It may be near more people. It may be more convenient. But there's something so special about Mount Vernon Place and the Washington Monument and the little parks that lead up to it. The flower show is just right there. I think it would lose a lot of its personality at another location. . . . It's a great mistake."

Sandy Hillman, executive vice president, Trahan, Burden & Charles: "As cities become squeezed, the whole notion of public celebration becomes more of a cost factor rather than being looked at as a kind of spiritual and social element that festivals add to a city. . . .

"Public celebration is so much a part of what Baltimore is about. On the one hand, it's good that an alternative location was found, but on the other hand it's a shame that they are breaking with years of tradition. . . . Maybe someone needs to endow a festival fund so the Flower Mart can stay in Mount Vernon."

Laurie Schwartz, president, Downtown Partnership: "We didn't know about it in advance, and we were sorry to hear of their intention to move. We would have preferred to work with them to make it work better in the Mount Vernon location."

Denise Cellinese, president of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Improvement Association: "I think it's just another little chip away at the stability of Mount Vernon. . . . We're heartbroken."

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