Last year was a banner year for Mount Vernon, the neighborhood surrounding the city's premiere square. The Hackerman House was renovated to accommodate the Walters Art Gallery's Asian collection. The Waterloo Place apartments added the choice of spanking new residences to an area where historic town houses dominate. And the Peabody Institute began the conversion of three decrepit town houses in the 600 block of North Charles Street into an elderhostel for senior citizens taking music-related courses.
This year promises to spread this impressive improvement all the way to Mount Royal. Just look:
* Construction of the University of Baltimore's new five-story Robert G. Merrick School of Business is slated to begin later this month at the southwest corner of Charles Street and Mount Royal Avenue. The building, originally budgeted at $22 million, will take two years to complete.
* In a few months, the University of Baltimore also intends to begin conversion of the old Pat Hays Buick dealership at Cathedral and Biddle streets. The $4 million project will turn it into a 500-car garage serving the area's diverse cultural and commercial customers.
* At Charles and Chase streets, the Mercantile Safe Deposit and Trust Co. will build a $1 million bank branch. The site is cater-corner from the old Belvedere Hotel, which is being converted to condominium residences.
* At Pennsylvania Station, work on a 600-car underground parking garage will begin in the fall. The project is estimated to cost $10 million to $15 million and will create a grand plaza for vehicles and pedestrians in front of the train station.
* At the North Avenue end of Mount Royal Avenue, a long-awaited dormitory complex for the students of the Maryland Institute of Art will be ready. It should strengthen Bolton Hill, one of the city's most prestigious in-town neighborhoods.
For Baltimore -- or any other struggling city -- this is heady stuff. Decades of planning are finally coming to fruition. Blocks that just a few years ago were in danger of becoming skid rows are being given new leases on life. The spin-offs are numerous: Last summer, a sidewalk cafe did thriving business near Charles and Preston streets!
Where will development activity spread next from the Mount Vernon-Mount Royal area?
Two directions are as natural as they are desirable. One is the old Chinatown, at Park Avenue and Mulberry Street. The other is the Pennsylvania Station area, south of North Avenue. With the opening this spring of the Central Light Rail Line, both neighborhoods are ripe for redevelopment.