Lafayette Market to close for year for renovations

September 01, 1994|By Harold Jackson and JoAnna Daemmrich | Harold Jackson and JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writers Sun staff writer James Bock contributed to this article.

Hoo Soon Kim and her husband opened Kim's Jewelry in the Lafayette Market in 1979.

But two years ago her husband died of cancer. Now she believes plans by the city to close the market for at least a year to renovate it will mean the end of her livelihood.

"All my husband left me is the store," Mrs. Kim said yesterday.

Merchants in the worn, yet vibrant market at Pennsylvania Avenue and Lafayette Street in West Baltimore received letters from the city in June advising them of the closing at the end of the year.

"I had just spent $15,000 on renovations four months before I got the letter," Mrs. Kim said on the verge of tears. "That is not right. It is not fair. We pay our taxes, too. They should have let us know sooner what they were planning."

The city is forming a relocation team to help each of the 26 fast-food stall owners, grocers and other shopkeepers who will be displaced during the $3 million renovation.

Merchants could choose to move to another of the city's six municipal markets or into the surrounding neighborhood, said Zack Germroth, a spokesman for the Department of Housing and Community Development, which is handling the renovation project.

"We'll go through and speak with each of the merchants individually and look at what they want to do in the future and where they want to go," Mr. Germroth said.

But Kyong Lee, who operates Mimi's Kitchen, a restaurant in Lafayette Market, said the merchants have no confidence that the city will finish the renovation within a year because officials have no blueprints nor any idea what they really want to do with the place.

City officials yesterday provided only limited details of the renovation, which would be financed with federal grants and possibly matching state aid. Gov. William Donald Schaefer toured the market last Thursday and is considering offering assistance, Mr. Germroth said.

"We don't want to just go in with a coat of paint and a new sidewalk because we would come out with the same product," he said.

The Housing Department plans to solicit broad proposals in the next months to revamp the market and turn it over to private management.

Privatization weighed

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke also is considering whether to privatize the management of the other five markets. The Schmoke administration wants to scale back the city's annual $700,000 subsidy for the markets. The long-term objective is to make the markets self-sustaining, said Lynnette Young, the mayor's chief of staff.

"Baltimore is one of the few remaining cities that still operate municipal markets," Ms. Young said. "They're over 100 years old and becoming very expensive to operate. But you have to be very careful when you talk about privatizing because you want to make sure whatever you do is in the best interest of the neighborhood you're serving and the merchants."

Among the proposals that have been considered is formation of a nonprofit corporation to redevelop the market as "The Avenue Market."

A blueprint for revitalizing Sandtown-Winchester, released by the city in the spring of 1993, called for working with Upton and other surrounding neighborhoods to renovate the market as a "new African-American marketplace offering a variety of foods, crafts and cultural activities." It also called for establishing a merchant-development program to assist new black merchants and attract new retail businesses to Pennsylvania Avenue.

Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III is reviewing a proposal by David Borinsky, a lawyer for the merchants, to keep the market open during the renovation.

Both the extensiveness of the overhaul and the lack of guarantees that they will have priority to return to the market has merchants on edge, Mr. Borinsky said.

Many fear the revitalization effort, scheduled to begin in January, will transform Lafayette Market into a more upscale shopping center that would require higher rents.

'Meat and potatoes market

"It's a meat and potatoes market, and they should do a meat and potatoes renovation," Mr. Borinsky said.

Owners of the small shops in the commercial strip near the market also worry that their business is likely to languish during the renovation.

"It's tragic that they can't renovate this place without putting it completely out of business. If they close this market, it's going to affect every other business on this street," said Aquil Rasul, who runs a barber shop across the street.

So Suh, president of the Lafayette Market Merchants Association, was a high school teacher in Korea before he came to the United States six years ago and opened his restaurant in the market, Kim's Oriental.

Mr. Suh said his English is not good enough for him to teach in this country and he doesn't have the money to open a restaurant elsewhere.

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