After years of shopping in someone else's back yard, Locust Point residents can now stay home and buy their groceries, find a dress or the fabric to make one at a shopping district they can call their own.
The Southside Market Place, a $10 million, 128,000-square-foot retail center, is scheduled to hold its official opening tomorrow, culminating three years of cooperative work between the community, the developer and the city.
The project was developed by Klein Enterprises of Pikesville, which manages and owns 18 other shopping centers in the Baltimore area. It was designed by the Baltimore architectural firm of Beck Powell and Parsons and constructed by general contractor Taylor White of White Construction Co. of Monkton.
Anchored by a Basics supermarket, the shopping center will house 29 other businesses ranging from a McDonald's to a Goodyear Tire and Auto Center, from a woman's apparel store called Fashion Cents to a veterinarian. Currently 13 shops have opened and at least eight others are set to open the first of the year, according to Billy Berman, general property manager.
These were some of the types of stores the residents of Locust Point and the upper South Baltimore peninsula wanted and the developer agreed to provide.
The community and the developer are also close to an agreement in which the developer will provide $10,000 annually for the next 20 years for community and youth-related projects.
The first year's installment will go to local recreation centers whose funding has been reduced by city budget cuts over the past several years, said Liz Scott, executive director of the Coalition of Peninsula Organizations. COPO is a community resource group to which area neighborhood associations belong.
Scott and a Klein official said that, to their knowledge, the pact is the first in the region in that it is a written, binding agreement.
George Arconti Jr., project manager for the development, said that other merchants' associations give funds to help support the community that supports them and "we just wanted to do the same thing."
Klein Enterprises, in 1988, decided to locate a shopping center on 9.9 acres at East Fort Avenue and Lawrence Street between Locust Point and the adjacent neighborhood to the west, Riverside.
The area had all the elements for a successful shopping center, Arconti said, including a stable residential community and a definite need.
For at least 140 years, residents had patronized mostly the community retail strip along Light and South Charles streets about three-quarters of a mile away.
As shopping centers that offered a fuller range of services began to spring up in the suburbs and people became more mobile, the residents drove to Glen Burnie in Anne Arundel County, to Catonsville in Baltimore County or even to the Rotunda in north Baltimore.
The Light and Charles street retail district did not have a large, modern supermarket, although it did have several smaller grocery stores and the Cross Street Market, one of Baltimore's famous markets that sell fresh meat, fish and vegetables.
In the last five years, some of the major stores in the district, such as Epsteins Department Store and the Princess Shop, closed.
"We definitely needed some retail business down here, especially a supermarket," recalled Mary Francis Garland, a community activist. But people were a little nervous when they heard that a developer wanted to put in a shopping center because our experiences with other developments had not always been good ones."
Outright opposition came from many of the merchants, headed by the South Baltimore/Federal Hill Market Place Business Association, concerned that the shopping center would further contribute to the decline of the commercial strip.
Arconti countered the merchants' concern by noting that the shopping center will keep residents at home to do their shopping and that would benefit both retail areas. He also pointed out that the shopping center is expected to create about 400 jobs and thus more local consumers.
Sonny Morstein, president of the merchants' association, took a more optimistic tone last week.
"I think both the shopping center and the old business district can survive together and do well," said Morstein.
Seven neighborhood groups, aided by COPO, formed a task force in 1988 to open talks with the developer.
"There was a lot of positive give and take on both sides," said Bruce Culotta, a Locust Point resident and then-president of COPO who headed the negotiations for the community. The key, Culotta said, was that the developer listened to and seriously considered what the community had to say.
The community said it wanted a major supermarket, a women's dress shop, a fabric store, a five-and-dime store, a bank, a tire and auto center and medical providers. The developer complied.
The community didn't want a liquor store, a tavern, a gas station or an arcade. The developer agreed.