South Baltimore parking may get easier 320-space garage is planned near Cross Street Market; Commerce


With a project that will bring more than 200 parking spaces to South Baltimore and Federal Hill by the end of next year, the area's business association hopes to put an end to parking problems that have frustrated visitors to the neighborhood and stymied growth.

A 320-space parking structure, known as the South Baltimore garage, is planned at an existing surface lot near the Cross Street Market.

The proposed $5 million to $6 million garage would increase the number of spaces to about 320, from about 100 in the existing lot. It would have at least two decks.

"I'm happy for the area," said Jules "Sonny" Morstein, owner of Morstein's Jewelers and president of the South Baltimore/Federal Hill Marketplace Business Association. "This is what's going to have to happen if the area is going to grow."

Slated for completion in October 1999, the garage is to be financed through a $1.26 million grant from the state, with up to $4 million in parking revenue bonds from the city.

Morstein said this marks the first time that the state has awarded a grant to a business district to build a parking garage. The South Baltimore/Federal Hill district is made up of about 150 businesses.

The South Baltimore Parking Lot Merchants Association -- an organization of five merchants -- has operated the existing lot on West Street since about 1974, on space leased from the city.

The lot is bordered by East West Street on the south and an alley south of Cross Street Market on the north, and is between Light and Charles streets on West Street.

The garage is expected to attract new business, handle overflow parking from Oriole Park and Ravens stadium, free up metered spaces in front of businesses, and reduce the spillover of cars that park in the nearby residential area, said LeRoy Adams, director of business assistance for the city's Department of Housing and Community Development.

Studies estimate the market potential within a mile radius of the business district at $84.3 million, based on the number of residents and their salaries.

In 1997, market sales in the business district were $41.2 million, Adams said.

"In other words, there's plenty of opportunity for sales growth if you have the parking," Adams said.

Officials hope that once the garage is open more of the 39,600 cars they say pass through the nearby Cross and Light street intersection daily will stop. "It wouldn't be unusual to see a 10, 15 or 20 percent increase in sales," Adams said. "That's a lot of tax dollars for the city."

The area, now rich with restaurants and bars, antique shops and galleries, is known for festivals that draw thousands.

The proposed garage is the culmination of years of work by Morstein and many others.

In March 1997, Morstein won Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's support after gathering about 20 people including area church, community and business leaders to talk about parking.

"We told the mayor if we don't get a parking garage, we won't be here in five years," Morstein said. "Lack of parking has stifled our growth. It discourages bigger players from coming into the area."

Morstein said it's important to remember that the Southside VTC Marketplace, with 300 free parking spaces, is located just a mile and a half away.

"There are just too many choices," Morstein said. "It's too easy to go somewhere else.

"We're not going to keep people coming back if they have to drive around looking for parking."

Pub Date: 6/02/98

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