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Five blighted houses on West Street have been transformed into shops and two restaurants as part of the area's revitalization.


It's a turnaround tale that some city dwellers found unlikely, at least in the beginning.

West Street in downtown Annapolis, sometimes seen as a poor stepsister to the town's Main Street, has lately looked like Cinderella, spurring investor optimism and inspiring a beautification scheme.

The latest change: a hip-looking shopping village that's sprung up, using the facades or structures of five blighted houses that line the stretch next to the new Knighton parking garage. A glass tower connects the sections that were separated because of decay.

Last weekend, hundreds of people turned out at a red-carpet street party to mark the completion of West Village, which includes two restaurants and several shops.

"The scale is not Anytown, U.S.A.," said Gavin Buckley, 42, a principal of West Village. "The houses came straight up to the sidewalk, which gave it the potential for street buzz."

"This is definitely uptown," Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said, using a name that adorns signs now hanging along the West Street corridor.

Jan Hardesty, a spokeswoman for Moyer, said of last weekend's street party: "People had never seen anything quite like that on West Street before."

West Village is the latest addition to a retail corridor that has seen big changes in recent years.

The city spent $13 million to upgrade West Street between Church Circle and Spa Road, replacing utility lines and adding red bricks to sidewalks and, for one block, the street.

Supporting the improvement and investment was the recent opening of the 220-space Knighton city parking garage.

Last month, the city issued building construction permits for the $200 million Park Place development at West Street and Taylor Avenue. The project will include a seven-story condominium building with 208 units, a 225-room Westin hotel, offices and shops; it is to be completed in late 2006. A new bank building is going up at the circle at West Street and Spa Road.

Last week, Sally Wern Comport, an Annapolis-based artist, introduced ArtWalk, a project that will fill in blank and brick walls on West Street with a series of public artworks. Her mounted mural, The Juggler, was installed on the side of Sean Donlon's Irish Pub.

"We'd like to make these [spaces] a permanent outdoor art exhibit," Comport said, "in an eclectic arrangement of artists and their art."

West Village will include two restaurants: Metropolitan, an American nouvelle cuisine restaurant with a third-story glass terrace; and Lemongrass, a Thai eatery.

Lemongrass' yellow shingle structure centers the complex and stands out in the midst of the state capital's brick.

Bernadette Sugatan, 25, a manager at Lemongrass, said the cuisine will be more casual and "earthy" than Metropolitan's. Also planned are a hair salon, Hudson & Fouquet, and Object, a gifts and flower shop.

Buckley sought to build on his first venture on West Street, the five-year-old Tsunami restaurant. Metropolitan's glass-and-white interior will depart utterly from the traditional Annapolis style, he said.

"It's more contemporary, a nod to modernity," Buckley said. "Brings a bit of the city to the town."

The head chef at Tsunami, J.J. Minetola, will take the same position at Metropolitan, hoping to attract diners with a menu that features dishes such as foie gras, lobster truffle risotto and hazelnut roasted quail.

Buckley, a native of Perth, Australia, said he, his wife and two other couples each invested about $1 million in the project after winning a city-sponsored competition on how best to revitalize the section of streetscape.

Making it a pedestrian destination for residents and visitors staying at hotels nearby is part of the plan. Key to their proposal was saving structures and the siding of the former houses to keep the scale intact and walker-friendly. Buckley said.

His wife, Julie Williams Buckley, 36, tends the shop at Astrid, a new clothing boutique that she calls "my baby."

Looking around her shop, she said she chooses designer denim and blouses that might be right for an edgier version of Annapolis, her hometown. After all, she adds, "Now there are more reasons to get dressed up."

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