Saving Avenue Market

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WHEN Avenue Market opened nearly three years ago, some hailed it as the first step in the rebirth of once-fabled Pennsylvania Avenue. But today, the enterprise is failing.

The colorful, African-style market has struggled to attract tenants. Its mix of fresh produce, fast-food stalls and miscellaneous merchandise hasn't lured many customers.

Some $4 million in state, city and private funds paid for the transformation of the former Lafayette Market into the Afrocentric bazaar.

Yet a $500,000 publicly financed reserve fund that was to last until 2001 has already been depleted. Recently, the city reluctantly agreed to give the market $200,000 to cover a budget deficit and operating expenses.

With the city facing a $153 million budget deficit over the next four years, however, it can't afford to continue bailing out the market, which is still seen by many in city government as key to Pennsylvania Avenue's redevelopment.

We asked merchants, developers and knowledgeable city residents how they might save Avenue Market.

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Paul L. Taylor Jr., architect, director of capital development for Johns Hopkins University and president-elect of the National Organization of Minority Architects:

I would like to see a return to its roots, back when Pennsylvania Avenue was a central area of city life. You don't just revitalize the market but the entire area. It always takes money and vision.

You need someone to capture and take control over a critical mass of venues along the avenue, to re-establish viable commercial and retail business in that area. What worked in Harlem was key commercial establishments that drew enough people to the area that they trickled out to the smaller businesses.

In New York, it was clearly a reduction of crime and a perception of the reduction that caused people to come back with their money. The perception and the reality of safety is paramount to any urban redevelopment.

Ted Rouse, Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, partner in charge of residential development:

The first thing that comes to my mind is a farmers' market, to bring in the green grocers like you have in Waverly on Saturday mornings. There are few things better for city folks than a real market where vegetables are being sold. You can see the seasons change, the interaction between farmer and merchant and city dweller.

And safety is a basic, something our new mayor is committed to. Maybe if there's positive retail activity, people will begin to view it as a safe place.

Daniel L. Bailey, president of the Amos Bailey and Lee architectural firm:

Recently, as I drove through the area at 9: 15 in the morning, a car in front of me was approached and you knew it was a drug deal. It was so obvious you'd have to be silly not to know what was happening. So the biggest concern is crime.

In that whole area, all of Upton, you need to involve the community, the city, the state and even the federal government to fund revitalization. There's a great deal of dilapidated and rundown housing, most of it abandoned. That has to be considered before one looks seriously at what to do with the market and even the recreation center down the street.

It can't just be about entertainment. It has to be about the neighborhood as a whole and safety is paramount.

Stephanie A. Kidwell, owner of Shuckers Seafood in Avenue Market, a branch of one of the original and most successful businesses in Harborplace:

You have to get rid of the drugs on the corners. That's the big thing -- there's a whole lot of drug activity, and it scares decent folks. If you got rid of the drug trafficking, business would be better. The market is clean, but you take one foot outside and you see trash everywhere.

Also, it's not big enough, only two aisles. I would add at least 200 or 300 more feet. When you shop, you want choices. You can put the Avenue Market inside the Lexington Market three times, and they're not even 5 miles apart.

Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., a 4th District city councilman who lives near the market:

The No. 1 thing I would do is make the surrounding area safer. On Friday nights, security is beefed-up [for jazz concerts at the market], but that's just one night and you've got major drug corners right across the street. This past campaign, I had a fund-raiser at the market to highlight it, a Thursday night in August. I had a good turnout, and everything went well, but some of the people wondered why I would hold an event there.

Otis Warren, Baltimore developer:

It needs security; people need to feel safe. I think it has a chance because it offers things the community needs, but if it's not absolutely safe, you're going to find that the people with money won't patronize it. In that neighborhood, there is progress and there is [decay]. To change it will take a lot of concentration and a lot of strict law enforcement. You could put Harborplace there and if you don't protect people, it's not going to work.

James "Biddy" Wood, an entertainment promoter who books jazz acts at the market and lives near it:

Get some foot patrolmen, somebody to keep people moving and get the drug traffic off the street corners. People who want to shop at the market are afraid. Clean it up first, get the stragglers out of there and then we need to have some patience. It's not going to happen overnight.

Tessa Hill-Aston, executive assistant to the ombudsmen of the city housing department and creator of the Cool Jazz on the Avenue Friday series:

I would create events and attractions for days other than Fridays -- maybe a seafood night, a getting-to-know-you night, a come-back-to-the-avenue night. I would have more produce in the market and more variety. Healthy competition. It shouldn't be run like a shopping center; it should be a market.

I see open-air markets with canopies and a farmers' market. We need things that look good, that smell good, like live flowers.

David Cordish, chairman of the Cordish Co. and developer of dozens of successful projects, including the Power Plant in Baltimore: It usually takes a great deal of effort to come up with answers to hard problems, and Lafayette Market is a hard problem. . . .

I would send a team up there, interact with the neighborhood, talk to a lot of people in city [government]. I would talk to the tenants who didn't make it and ask them what went wrong, and I would talk to the tenants who did and ask them what went right.

Interviews were conducted by Sun reporter Rafael Alvarez.

Pub Date: 9/30/99

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