South Baltimore, where the action is

July 13, 1996|By Antero Pietila

THREE YEARS AFTER a group of Singapore-based investors took a gamble and built a 27-story condominium tower near Federal Hill, commercial redevelopment along the Key Highway waterfront is finally taking off.

As an abandoned copper-paint factory near the American Visionary Art Museum was torn down this week, workers were busily converting two nearby waterfront warehouses into restaurants.

''It's prime real estate this side of the harbor,'' explained Tim Danahy, an employee of Globe Brewing Co.

That new company is resurrecting the name of a venerable Baltimore brewer. It plans to open a beer hall, restaurant, microbrewery and a home-brewing school by October in a warehouse that has been vacant for a decade.

''We looked at a number of other sites, but we kept coming back to Key Highway,'' said Globe president Charles Bowman.

Cuban market square

Next door, Chris Whisted, taking a break from erecting drywall, promised that Little Havana, a restaurant and nightclub, would open by Labor Day. ''It's going to be a real feast for the eyes, . . . like a Cuban market square,'' he said of the colorful decor.

The establishment will overlook a marina and will have sweeping views of the harbor. In keeping with the Cuban theme, private-brand cigars will be available to patrons. As for the food, ''it won't be anything real crazy, but it will have a real Caribbean flavor to it,'' said the builder, whose brother, Tim, will operate the restaurant.

So many things are now cooking that the waterfront between the American Visionary Art Museum and Fort Avenue is certain to look very different soon. Key Highway is still an obstacle course. But when its reconstruction is completed in the fall, that landscaped boulevard will provide a convenient link between the Inner Harbor and I-95 that avoids many of the downtown bottlenecks.

The key player in the redevelopment of the Key Highway waterfront is HarborView, which controls 42 acres of prime land.

HarborView principals are still trying to arrange financing for a new tower of rental apartments. Meanwhile, a plan to build a 187-bed nursing home near Southern High School seems to be making progress. And the partnership is negotiating to lease the ground floor of its terminal building next to the Rusty Scupper to a Tex-Mex-themed restaurant.

The area's two big cultural institutions are the Baltimore Museum of Industry, an 18-year-old chronicler of the city's blue-collar past, and the American Visionary Art Museum, which opened just eight months ago. Both are in an expansion mode.

The Museum of Industry is erecting a 500-seat, open-air waterfront pavilion for concerts and other events. Having run out of space, it is hungrily eyeing the adjoining city fire department repair-shop building.

Meanwhile, the new Visionary Art Museum has won plaudits from around the world for its exhibits of works by artists without formal training. It hopes to add an old warehouse to the two buildings it currently owns.

Few things in Baltimore happen quickly. The slow start of redevelopment along the Key Highway stretch underscores that point. Momentum now is clearly building, though.

Take a look at the corner of Lawrence Street and Fort Avenue. A mobile snowball stand has occupied the site across from Rallo's restaurant during summer months. Next week, a new building will open there to house not only the snowball operation but a pit-beef grill and a coffee shop as well. A deck will accommodate patrons wanting to sit down.

Watch out, South Baltimore. Redevelopment is just around the corner.

Antero Pietila writes editorials for The Sun.

Pub Date: 7/13/96

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