Revival of tattered market sought

January 15, 1995|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer

Once alive with the bustling tempo of Pennsylvania Avenue, Lafayette Market today is largely deserted, its floors littered with trash, half of its stalls empty under the dim fluorescent lights.

Of the six historic neighborhood markets in Baltimore that still offer produce, seafood, meats and exotic treats, the 126-year-old Lafayette Market has struggled the hardest. Its prosperity disintegrated with the decline of Pennsylvania Avenue after the 1968 riots, displacement caused by urban renewal and the growing drug trade.

Now, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who is dismantling the city's markets bureaucracy, hopes to revive Lafayette Market as a commercial and social center by turning it over to an independent, nonprofit corporation. A similar corporation has been established to run the Belair, Hollins, Northeast, Broadway and Cross Street markets.

The city's latest effort to revitalize Lafayette Market comes after a $3 million plan backfired last summer, leaving the mostly Korean merchants fearful that they would lose their livelihood.

"I'm 100 percent in agreement with the decision of a renovation, but they've got to consider our properties. All the merchants' for tunes depend on it," said Jinsoo Hwang, owner of a poultry stall.

He and other merchants say their faltering trade slumped even more after the city announced in June that the market would close for a year for extensive renovations.

Amid an outcry from merchants and the governor's unwillingness to provide $1 million in state funding, Mr. Schmoke delayed the closing and asked an advisory committee to develop a new plan for Lafayette's future.

City Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III, who wants to fulfill many Upton and Sandtown-Winchester residents' dream of restoring the market, is planning to begin construction this summer.

Mr. Henson initially wanted to begin work this month on the market at Pennsylvania Avenue and Laurens Street but ran into problems.

More than six months ago, before he had lined up firm financing, he told the city markets administrator that he intended to close the stalls for repairs. Twenty-six shopkeepers received letters June 17 telling them to move out by the end of the year.

While merchants hired a lawyer to fight the closing, city officials and developer James W. Rouse asked the Schaefer administration for $1 million from the state.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer agreed to consider the plan because it had been developed with Mr. Rouse, founder of the rTC Enterprise Foundation, which is working to revive Sandtown-Winchester. But after touring the market in September, Mr. Schaefer balked, saying the plan would displace the merchants.

"I told [city officials] it was very unfair and I would not be part of it," he said in a recent interview. "I did take a walk around the neighborhood, and I didn't see enough progress to justify spending $1 million from the state on the market."

A blueprint for revitalizing Sandtown-Winchester, released by the city in spring 1993, called for working with nearby neighborhoods to renovate the market as a "new African-American marketplace offering a variety of foods, crafts and cultural activities." It also called for helping black merchants and attracting retailers to Pennsylvania Avenue.

But Mr. Henson strongly denied that the original plan was designed to displace the Koreans.

After Mr. Schaefer's decision, the city was forced to begin anew its search for funding.

Mr. Schmoke decided to turn over the market to an independent, nonprofit organization, He asked Mr. Rouse to chair an advisory panel, including neighborhood leaders, merchants and city representatives.

In an attempt to revitalize the five other markets, the mayor is turning them over to a nonprofit corporation after acknowledging that the city bureaucracy had become more costly and inefficient under his stewardship. A similar corporation has run Lexington Market since 1979.

In the past 2 1/2 years, while the mayor has considered private management, he has turned over the markets administration to the brother of a top aide. Under Harry T. Woods, the brother of Lynnette Young, the mayor's chief of staff, the number of top administrators doubled and the headquarters was renovated, then abandoned for new offices. Jackie Cornish, executive director of the Druid Heights Community Development Corp., said the committee wants to encourage more black entrepreneurs to set up shop.

"The building needs . . . more variety, and it needs to address the ethnicity of the entire community," she said.

From a bake shop at the market entrance, April Allen pointed to the abandoned stalls as she explained why she supports a renovation: "This place does need some improvement. I think it will be better."

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