Sneak Preview Downtown

December 17, 1991

In just a few months, downtown Baltimore will be spotlighted in a way it has not seen for years. The new stadium will be ready at Camden Yards, so will a new Veterans Administration hospital on Greene Street. And years of barricaded existence will end on Howard Street, when state-of-the-art light-rail trains begin moving along Howard Street.

These changes are likely to bring visitors to areas of downtown they have not seen for quite a while. But this holiday season is a good time for early-birds to take a look at some of the happenings that have taken place from Cross Street Market to Mount Royal Avenue in recent months.

The historic heart of Baltimore's downtown is Charles Center, which also was the starting point of the city's rejuvenation in the late 1950s. After Harborplace was built, however, many people-oriented activities shifted elsewhere. The plazas of Charles Center are now ready to make a comeback.

A jazz series last summer became a Thursday night cult event there. Plans call for expansion of those concerts next summer. A long-time design irritant also will finally be removed in a few weeks when a new grand stairway at Center Plaza will connect Lexington Street -- and its famous food market -- with the boutique and gallery stretch of Charles Street. That should make lunchtime shopping easier for thousands of office workers in the area.

As a report by The Sun's Timothy J. Mullaney suggested, the artistic part of Charles Street is holding its own despite the difficult economic climate. Particularly successful has been the First Thursday program, which draws substantial crowds to shops, galleries, museums and restaurants at the beginning of each month.

Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, an advocacy and management group, is now hoping to magnify that enthusiasm by a series of coordinated measures.

Better parking lots and stepped-up security and street cleaning are a few of the measures the group is taking. The organization is also trying to increase variety among downtown businesses and encourage summertime sidewalk cafes, several of which proved successful this year.

These are moves that are likely to produce instant dividends. So many pieces of the downtown puzzle are in place that the future can -- and ought to be -- viewed with optimism.

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