A five-block stretch of Eastern Avenue in the East Highlandtown area of Baltimore is in line for some sprucing up, including a $5 million road realignment and $200,000 in streetscape improvements.
The project, unveiled recently by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, would cover the area along Eastern Avenue from Lehigh to Quail streets.
Under the revitalization program, a portion of Ponca Street would TC be closed and realigned to improve access on and off Interstate 895 -- the Harbor Tunnel Freeway.
Currently, there is no ramp for southbound traffic trying to exit the highway into Highlandtown nor a ramp for northbound traffic trying to get on the highway from Highlandtown. The realignment would add ramps, allowing traffic to enter and exit the highway from both directions.
Also, city officials say, the realignment should reduce truck traffic along Eastern Avenue, create room for a public parking lot for Eastern Avenue shops and give employees of a nearby Mass Transit Administration facility more accessible parking.
The road change will be funded with federal transportation funds. Approximately $200,000 in city funds will be used to plant trees along the five blocks and install new sidewalks accented with paving stones.
No date has been set for the project to begin.
The City Council must first vote on an ordinance establishing a series of design standards for stores along the five-block stretch. Those standards would require uniform upgrades along the street within two years after the ordinance is approved. The upgrades include color-coordinated facades, properly mounted exterior signs and repairs to windows, gutters and roofs.
City officials say merchants along the street have agreed to the upgrades. Passage of the ordinance is expected before the council recesses for the summer in June, says Rachel Edds, deputy city planning director.
"This brings the community together in an important way," says Schmoke, referring to area residents, merchants and officials at nearby Francis Scott Key Medical Center and Bayview Research Campus.
The 130-acre research campus is under development and the medical center is undergoing an expansion, both of which are expected to increase traffic along Eastern Avenue.
That traffic is expected to benefit merchants along the street, such as gift and book shops that cater to the Greek community and several of the city's best known Greek restaurants, including Ikaros and the Acropolis.
A revitalized Eastern Avenue should also help the research campus, says David Hash, director of property management for the Dome Corp., the for-profit subsidiary of Johns Hopkins University and the developer of the campus.
"The strength of [Eastern Avenue] spills over into the strength of the campus," Hash says. "The stronger this commercial strip is, the more attractive the campus becomes for prospective tenants."
Thomas Rafailides, owner of Raf Realty in the 4600 block of Eastern Ave., says new public parking along the street is a critical part of the project, and will "help the community."
That parking, which will be adjacent to the Signet Bank at the corner of Ponca Street and Eastern Avenue, will include approximately 70 parking spaces for the customers of merchants in the area, city officials say.
The parking will also alleviate parking problems for Highlandtown residents, who live in the hundreds of rowhouses that line streets off Eastern Avenue.
"Because of the large number of restaurants, parking overflow has been a problem," says Perry Sfikas, president of the Bayview Civic Association. "The parking not only helps the residents, it encourages people to come into the area and dine here."
With increased foot traffic and improved storefronts, Sfikas says, residents will begin to get a new message about their community.
Says Sfikas, "The message will be there's activity here, there's life."