Banking on a downtown location

April 05, 1993

In terms of definitions used by planning bureaucrats, the corner of Mulberry and Eutaw streets sits on no-man's land. It's not really part of Mt. Vernon West or Seton Hill. The Market Center moniker would cover the area but that term lacks specificity. Perhaps the easiest way to describe the site is to say that it is just a couple of blocks north of Lexington Market.

In the old Baltimore of downtown shopping, this was one of the premiere commercial corners. In recent years, a parking lot has occupied the northeastern side. Last month, excavators began wrecking that parking lot. By the end of the year, a complex of 62 residential rental units and six small shops should be completed on that site. "I'm very upbeat about this area," says Jay French, who is developing the project with Tom Dowling. "I believe that this area has a tremendous potential to bring back small retail shops."

Mr. French is no stranger to the Eutaw Street area: the Montgomery County resident has his construction company's headquarters on that very street. Not surprisingly, two of his previous projects also are nearby.

One of them is Franklin Court, a 29-unit apartment and retail complex Mr. French built in the 500 block West Franklin Street in 1986. Most Baltimoreans do not even know those apartments exist. They were carved from existing rowhouses, where the various units have balconies facing a common inner courtyard. "All the apartments are rented, all the shops are rented," he reports.

The new $4.5 million Mulberry Court project repeats that previous concept but in brand-new construction of brick buildings. All the shops will face Eutaw Street; all the apartments will share the use of an inner courtyard. "Our concept is to expand and boost the existing retail base, while providing affordable, quality homes in a downtown setting," Mr. French says.

The corner of Mulberry and Eutaw Streets is again a site to watch.

Mulberry Court is an important project in an area that is close to varied shopping amenities, has good public transportation and is convenient to the downtown. It continues the improvement that was started by such residential redevelopments as the nearby Chesapeake Commons (in the old City College building) and restoration of Seton Hill rowhouses. A product of cooperation among the federal agencies, the city and the state, Mulberry Court can be a real factor in downtown transformation.

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