Trouble-shooting 'eagle' keeps eye on downtown

Jacques Kelly

November 05, 1990|By Jacques Kelly

When the water stops running in outdoor fountains downtown, David Stein gets the call. When the weeds choke tree wells along Charles Street, he pulls them. When Lexington Mall merchants pitch their shipping cartons onto the sidewalk, he is the one who casts a disapproving eye.

Stein, 34, is the man on the hot seat who's responsible for the maintenance of downtown. He's the groundskeeper of an area that runs from the Inner Harbor to North Avenue, from the Jones Falls Expressway to Martin Luther King Boulevard.

To make his rounds, Stein rides a 14-year-old Gitane bicycle. He's on call as long as there are street lights that burn out and trash in receptacles. It seems his job never ends.

"I guess I blame my education for liking this job. I went to Antioch," Stein said of the liberal arts college in Ohio where alternate full-time study on campus is mixed with full-time related work experience off campus.

Stein was once the planning administrator for his hometown, Wheeling, W.Va. He decided to get a master's degree in planning from the University of Maryland and has remained in Baltimore since that time. He hates being tied down in an office and thrives on flying all over downtown like some overseeing eagle.

"My bike makes it easy to get around. There's no parking problem and it's efficient," said Stein, who also runs several miles a day around South Baltimore, where he lives in a Barney Street rowhouse.

His job title is director of operations for Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Inc., the public-private group that boosts downtown Baltimore and works to keep it from falling apart. The partnership counts among its dues-paying members such corporate giants as the Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. and USF&G, the Baltimore School for the Arts and the Westminster House, apartments for senior citizens at Charles and Centre streets.

Many of Stein's trouble spots are not occasioned by 19th century water mains or the decaying street beds that once were marched on by returning World War I doughboys.

His troubles are caused by the improvements of the "new" downtown Baltimore of the 1960s and '70s. For example, Charles Center's plazas, planting beds and street trees and fancy street lights are wearing out. The gussied-up downtown Baltimore created by urban renewal needs constant work.

Pavements have to be replaced. By legal agreement, the city has to maintain certain underground parking ramps and the system of overhead walkways whose concrete slabs are subject to damage from freezing in the winter and thawing in the spring.

Add to this all the black iron trash baskets, benches and tree grates along Charles Street that need care.

The J. Jefferson Miller Memorial Fountain at Charles Street near Fayette Street had to be shut off for months because its drip pan was leaking on cars parked beneath it. Stein worked out a way to get the fountain working again, much to the delight of the adjacent property owners -- Hamburger's men's store chain and the One Charles Center (CSX) office building.

Stein describes his touchiest role as that of mediator between itinerant street vendors and retailers. He is now working on a system of licensing street vendors and standardizing the carts from which they sell their wares.

Stein doesn't work alone. The Department of Public Works provides 11 street-sweepers -- five for the Howard Street and Lexington Market areas. He also gets help from the departments of transportation and recreation and parks and other sub-agencies in city government.

"People may not realize it, but downtown Baltimore is a clean city and we are going to keep it that way," Stein said.

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