Howard St. studied as Festival Hall site Move could breathe life into area

August 16, 1993|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

The Schmoke administration is considering moving Baltimore's Festival Hall north a few blocks to help rejuvenate the Howard Street corridor.

The Baltimore Development Corp. hired consultants this year to evaluate options for moving the 8-year-old meeting place at Howard and Pratt streets and instructed them to study sites along the Howard-Eutaw corridor, including one south of the Lexington Arcade.

Home to a steady mix of summer festivals, car shows, crafts fairs and other events that draw hundreds of thousands of people a year, the $4.5 million building must be dismantled to make way for construction of a $150 million expansion of the Convention Center.

Moving it near Lexington Market could give an economic boost to the city's former retail hub, where many merchants still are struggling to survive after years of light-rail and subway construction, and the loss of four department stores.

It also would help make up for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's decision not to move the city's Police Department headquarters to the former Hecht Co. building at Howard and Lexington streets, a plan that city officials tentatively announced in 1992, then rejected several months ago.

Michael Seipp, executive vice president in charge of real estate and physical development for the quasi-public agency, cautioned that the study is not finished and that the city has made no final decisions about moving the 52,000-square-foot metal shed.

The sites that are being studied, he said, include the city-owned parking lot south of Lexington Arcade, between Eutaw and Paca streets, and the parking lot at the southeast corner of Howard and Centre streets, south of the Greyhound bus station.

Once a thriving retail district anchored by the Hutzler's, Stewart's and Hochschild-Kohn department stores and other stores that have gone out of business, Howard Street now is plagued by many boarded-up buildings and vacant storefronts, especially between Saratoga and Monument streets.

"Festival Hall could bring a lot of new people into the area" and help attract businesses, Mr. Seipp said. "It's one of many ideas we're considering for the Howard Street corridor."

Economic Research Associates, the lead consultant for the feasibility study, is working with Design Collective of Baltimore to analyze sites and estimate the cost of moving the building.

Its preliminary report, due this month, is a follow-up to a study of possible Festival Hall relocation sites by the city planning department and others.

Other options that have been mentioned for a new site include Camden Yards, Inner Harbor East, the Allied Signal site, the Fallsway Park-and-Ride lot, Port Covington, the Middle Branch shoreline, Canton, Carroll Park and the area around Memorial Stadium.

City officials want to relocate Festival Hall because they don't want to lose the spinoff benefits from events there.

In the 12 months that ended June 30, 1992, Festival Hall was busy for 196 days, with 43 events that drew a total of 225,000 people, according to Peggy Daidakis, executive director of the Baltimore Convention Complex.

This summer, Baltimore Development Corp. representatives met with merchants and property owners in the Lexington Market area to come up with long- and short-term ideas for reviving it.

Besides relocating Festival Hall, those ideas included turning Howard Street into a full-fledged arts and entertainment district and encouraging owners to convert the upper floors of vacant buildings to residences.

The key is to give people more reasons to come to the area, said Milt Rosenbaum, president of the Market Center Merchants Association and owner of Hosiery World at 211 W. Saratoga St.

"The more people we bring to this area," the better off we're all going to be," he said.

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