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Fragile Avenue Market Upton: Old Pennsylvania Avenue complex sparkles after $4 million rehabilitation.


AS A STRUCTURE, the Avenue Market inside the shell of the old Lafayette Market sparkles after a thorough $4 million redesign and rehabilitation. It is airy, attractive and clean.

Despite a ribbon-cutting last weekend, the market is still largely vacant. This is not good -- even though construction delays are understandable. Many of the 40 stall operators are first-time business people and now miss the benefits of the traditionally busy Christmas and Kwanzaa shopping rush.

In spite of tens of millions of dollars spent on urban renewal since 1967, revitalization of Upton has been elusive. Will the new Avenue Market now signal a permanent turnaround?

Perhaps. But only if the whole city government, from police to the housing department, begins an uncompromising crackdown on everything that blights the area.

The length of Pennsylvania Avenue from North Avenue to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard needs to become a zero-tolerance zone, where visible drug trafficking and prostitution are not tolerated and vacant houses are boarded up so that they are not open to the elements and vandals. Only then will the new Avenue Market have a chance to fulfill its potential and be an anchor of stability.

Despite a lot of hoopla about the renewed market being an "African-American Harborplace," it is not. It still concentrates too heavily on fast food and offers little reason to anyone from outside the immediate vicinity to visit. And because so many of its merchants are relatively inexperienced, success is not guaranteed.

Prolonged efforts to improve the Pennsylvania Avenue and Sandtown-Winchester neighborhoods have so far failed to arrest decline. Druid Hill Avenue, once a fashionable address for the black middle class, has never been in worse shape than it is today. And Pennsylvania Avenue itself, Baltimore's main segregation-era venue for black shopping and entertainment, has few bright spots besides the market.

The recent cleanup of an open-air drug market in front of St. Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church shows that improvement is possible. But only if the various city authorities keep incessantly working at it. We hope the impressive work done on Avenue Market plants a seed for change.

Pub Date: 12/19/96

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