New look for Lafayette Market Renovations to include Afrocentric image

fall opening planned

March 25, 1996|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF

The long-awaited renovation of Lafayette Market is to begin next month on a fast-track schedule that would have the market reopening by late fall, developers say.

Plans call for a bold Afrocentric image for the building: exterior and interior walls of red, black, green and gold and a new name The Avenue Market drawing on the history of Pennsylvania Avenue as the premier shopping and entertainment district for black Baltimoreans during the Jim Crow era. A frieze resembling a black-and-white African cloth will decorate the top of the building.

Market vendors will pay higher rents and have to meet stricter standards than before, developers say. More fresh food and less fast food are planned.

"Our goal is to create the best public market in Baltimore," said Olusola O. Seriki, senior vice president of Metroventures, the Columbia-based company that is overseeing the $4 million project.

Reconstructing the market, which closed in September, is one of the most ambitious renovations of a public space in West Baltimore in recent years. The project has become a powerful symbol for city officials and neighborhood leaders.

They hope a reconstructed market, also serving as a social center, will help change economic conditions that have led to the decades-long decline of the Pennsylvania Avenue business corridor and its surrounding neighborhoods, including Upton, Sandtown-Winchester, Druid Heights, Penn North and Harlem Park.

It has the potential of becoming "a vibrant catalyst for the rest of the community to revitalize itself," producing jobs and increasing tax revenues, said city Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III.

"Renovating Lafayette Market is crucial to the success" of area revitalization efforts, said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

Urban-renewal efforts away from downtowns generally don't begin by renovating public buildings in a business district. The -- Avenue Market approach "is unique; no city has tried this before," said John Hannigan, a project adviser who helped develop the White Marsh and Owings Mills shopping malls for the Rouse Co. "But you get a sense that it's really going to work."

Market research shows the area has spendable income of $300 million a year, said Mr. Seriki, the market's developer. "That's why Rite Aid [drugstore] and Payless [shoe store] have moved" to Pennsylvania Avenue, Mr. Seriki said.

About 30 years ago, the Upton community association listed the overhaul of Lafayette Market as key to the neighborhood's urban-renewal plan. Over the years, the renovation was stymied for a number of reasons, including construction of the Upton subway station below the market.

But now developers say it will happen. A construction management team has been hired and has begun accepting bids from subcontractors. Applications are being accepted from prospective tenants. A formal kickoff is scheduled for April 12 at the market, at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and Laurens Street. Plans are for the market to reopen the weekend before Thanksgiving.

A year ago, Mayor Schmoke decided to turn the market over to an independent, nonprofit group as part of the privatization of the city's six neighborhood markets. He asked developer James W. Rouse to chair The Avenue Market Corp. board, which is composed mostly of neighborhood and business leaders and oversees market renovations and operations. Mr. Rouse is founder of the Enterprise Foundation, which is working to revive Sandtown-Winchester.

Public and private funds will pay for the renovation. About $800,000 will come from the state, and the city will provide $1.3 million, Mr. Henson said.

Probably the most difficult part of the renovation will be replacing the building's infrastructure, Mr. Seriki said, describing out-of-date, undersized electrical and sewer systems. A market has stood on the site since the 1870s; the current building was built in 1957 after a fire destroyed the market.

After renovation, the 20,000-square-foot space is to include at least two sit-down restaurants closed off from the noisy marketplace by glass doors and a diner next to a performance space where local entertainers will occasionally be featured.

Shoppers will be able to get their shoes shined, nails done, pick up a gift for a friend or a meal to take home and do their banking without leaving the market, developers say.

Korean merchants who used to work at the market protested its closing, fearing that an African cultural marketplace theme would cost them their livelihoods.

Now developers are reviewing 16 applications from the Korean merchants, said Doo Hwan Killian, president of the Korean Businessmen's League and a member of the market's board.

Many of the former merchants may have to change their offerings since plans call for more produce sellers, butchers and bakers.

"We won't have four or five places [just] selling fried chicken," Mr. Seriki said.

Also, neighborhood residents will have an opportunity to start businesses through a merchant development program.

Area residents are eager for the new market to open.

"We see that market as the anchor of this community," said Lena Boone, who represents Upton on the market's board.

Pub Date: 3/25/96

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