Ambitious agenda unveiled for west side Howard Street: Private investment seen as key in bringing new life to lagging retail district.


SINCE the flagship department stores deserted Howard Street, beginning in the 1970s, Baltimore's own Fifth Avenue has been struggling. It may never again thrive as a retail hub. But it does have potential for revitalization.

The area has superb transit and highway connections. And its location -- close to the downtown business district, the Inner Harbor and the University of Maryland professional schools and medical institutions -- is unbeatable.

A new master plan bankrolled by the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, the area's major real estate owner, outlines a 10-year strategy to renew the Howard Street corridor.

It targets an 18-block area for action.

Vacant landmarks -- including the old Stewart's department store -- would be redeveloped, several decrepit retail complexes demolished, and structures built.

So many studies and false starts over the years have created Baltimoreans' justified skepticism. What is different now is that an array of interest groups has decided the time is ripe for investment "not only to the betterment of the city but our own self-interests," as one executive put it.

The Weinberg master plan offers an exciting blueprint for action.

Three developers are poised to build 300 apartments to satisfy the heavy demand for market-rate rental housing. Meanwhile, new legislation would enable the city to start acquiring vacant properties for redevelopment along the Howard Street corridor.

Recently announced plans would turn the boarded-up Hippodrome vaudeville house into a performing arts center, with a main auditorium capable of seating 2,300 patrons. And a major convention hotel has been proposed next to Oriole Park.

With the Weinberg blueprint in place, implementation should not be delayed. This is the best chance in decades to revitalize the Howard Street corridor.

Pub Date: 6/29/98

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