Stadium stories: Parts of city die, parts are reborn

MICHAEL OLESKER

April 26, 1992|By MICHAEL OLESKER

The city's dying? Of course it is; it's the nature of cities. Parts of it die and parts are reborn, and a little while later the birthing and the dying get shifted around.

On 33rd Street, a stadium dies and a neighborhood goes through purgatory. At Camden Yards, a ballpark is born and the surrounding neighborhoods await a brand-new fate.

The early indications are mixed. From the north, the trains bring fans bearing untold sums of money. Already, the Pratt Street bars are seeing some fallout. To the east, Harborplace reaps the benefits of yuppies staying late at work, grabbing a bite, catching the Rolling Stones at the Science Center's big screen, then walking to the new park. To the southeast, there's a delicate balance.

"We gotta get 'em here without driving the neighbors crazy," says Sonny Morstein, president of the South Baltimore-Federal Hill Marketplace Business Association.

His family has owned Morstein's Jewelers, on Light Street just south of the Cross Street Market, since 1898. At midday, a light rain falls here in Federal Hill, but the sidewalks are crowded and the streets are crawling with cars.

"Hopefully," says Morstein, "people discovering the ballpark will discover us, too. But we hope they'll walk here, and not destroy the neighborhood. That's the balancing act."

At the Cross Street Market, the seafood lovers gravitate to Nick's Raw Bar. From Friday afternoon through the weekends, there are times when the crowd around Nick's goes out the door onto Charles Street. The ballpark has only thickened the numbers, and Nick's has put together a shuttle to the ballpark to draw even more people. There's a sense of an endless, good-natured party going on.

"Sometimes," says Brian Savage, shelling a few raw clams behind the bar, "you can't get people in the door."

That's the kind of talk that brings a glow to people hoping that the city renaissance hasn't completely died. A downtown ballpark means nothing if it merely houses a baseball team. There has to be a ripple effect that carries outward, that brings life to the streets beyond the playing field.

"I'll tell you this," says Sonny Morstein. "I've done the walk from Federal Hill to the ballpark and back. It's families, it's a good crowd. People will feel comfortable with that. For us, the real dilemma will be to accommodate everybody, to let the restaurants do their business while not upsetting the people who live here."

On the other side of the ballpark, they should have such concerns.

To the west of Camden Yards are Ridgley's Delight and Washington Village, which many still call Pigtown. For businesses in the area, it's as if the ballpark hasn't exactly happened -- and they're not thrilled.

All those people worried about Camden Yards parking haven't figured out a little secret yet: You get off Interstate 95 at Washington Boulevard, and you can scout up parking just a few blocks from the stadium.

And you walk through those streets -- with the old, working-class rowhouses, the new yuppie developments and little rows of shops -- and you get a feel for a part of the city most people have long forgotten or have never known about.

In the 700 block of Washington Blvd., for example, is Papa Myers Deli, which is legendary among all possessors of taste buds in West Baltimore. A block and a half from the ballpark (but with prices far less expensive than stadium sandwiches), it's a natural for the baseball set.

Only, nobody in the baseball set has discovered it yet.

"This is our great hope," Ilana Shochat, owner of Papa Myers, was saying last week, the day the Orioles would finish their homestand sweep of the Detroit Tigers. "So close to this new stadium, I had visions of welcoming so many new people."

In anticipation, she put up big banners outside the place: an Orioles flag and state flags. She put up balloons and flashing lights. She set up a table outside.

There was nobody there. Her regular customers, yeah, because the regular customers are always there. But the ballpark crowd? For them, it's a street waiting to be discovered.

"The irony," says Shochat, "is that my property taxes went up because the city thinks the stadium makes this more valuable. My health department license went from $30 to $250. I spent so much money for the new customers, but the new customers are all on the other side of the stadium with the subway and the light rail."

A native of Poland who grew up in Israel and immigrated here 20 years ago, Shochat glances around at the noontime lunch crowd. The place has a Middle East decor, as if Jerusalem has come to West Baltimore: graceful arches, copper plates on the walls, Middle East posters, hanging pots. It's charming.

But you walk outside and there are four empty storefronts on the block. You go down the street to the local McDonald's and see all the Orioles pictures and banners they hung on the walls when baseball season opened.

The response? "Not like we expected," says a McDonald's spokesman, who'd anticipated fans stopping by on their way to games.

The state's Department of Economic and Employment Development recently estimated that the park will generate $204 million in annual sales, $70 million in employee income and 2,100 full-time jobs.

Question for the day: How much will spill over to the streets outside the park? The early answer has lots of people still holding their breath.

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