Governor's liaison supports a 'Spanish Town' Hispanics press for area in Upper Fells Point

November 29, 1995|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

The governor's newly appointed liaison to the Hispanic community yesterday promised to back an attempt by Hispanic business owners to create a specially designated "Spanish Town" in Upper Fells Point.

Luis Ortega, who chairs Gov. Parris N. Glendening's Commission on Hispanic Affairs, said he will work "strongly" for the designation.

"It's necessary. It would give a tremendous support for the businesses there," he said during an interview in his Saratoga Street office. "I am offering my support to them. I think I can steer the members of the commission to support it."

Hispanic community leaders said the endorsement from Mr. Ortega, who took office Nov. 6, gives important backing to an idea that has lost momentum in recent months. Business owners believe the creation of a "Spanish Town" could attract attention and customers to their restaurants and shops, many of which are struggling financially and have had trouble borrowing money.

East Baltimore Latinos have been discussing the creation of a Spanish Town for years, with many different visions of how large the area covered by the designation should be. Whatever its boundaries, the proposed "town" likely would center on the Hispanic-owned businesses in the 200 block of S. Broadway and the 1700 block of Eastern Ave.

Haydee Rodriguez, the mayor's liaison to the Hispanic community, said the idea was proposed to Mr. Schmoke last LTC spring. At that time, the mayor said he would support the special designation if it could be shown that "there is substantial support in the community," Ms. Rodriguez said.

But since then, city officials and the Hispanic community have had little discussion on the proposal, business owners complain.

Mr. Ortega's predecessor, Jose Ruiz, was active in Baltimore's Hispanic community, but business owners say his long-running feud with Ms. Rodriguez often made it difficult to accomplish community goals. Still, many Hispanic entrepreneurs remain loyal to the energetic Mr. Ruiz and are protesting his October firing.

Even Mr. Ruiz's supporters acknowledge that they may benefit from Mr. Ortega, a 64-year-old Montgomery County architect. He appears to have a good relationship with Ms. Rodriguez, who is a member of the commission he heads.

"When people don't get along well, it's hard to do something like this in the community," said Heber Portillo, owner of Restaurant El Salvador in the 200 block of S. Broadway. "Mr. Ortega could be very important to having Spanish Town."

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