A welcome gift to neighborhood Market: Transformed site on Pennsylvania Avenue to have open house today so residents can see what $4 million has wrought. Twenty-six tenants are signed up for Dec. 14 opening.

November 23, 1996|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF

It's a month until Christmas, but today city officials will unveil the best present West Baltimore has received in years, community leaders say: a Lafayette Market that has been transformed by a $4 million renovation.

With Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and other officials on hand, community residents will get their first look inside the newly renamed Avenue Market, at 1700 Pennsylvania Ave., during today's open house -- complete with a live steel band and refreshments, beginning at 10 a.m. The market will officially open for business Dec. 14.

The market won't have a full-service bank or dry cleaners as planned, but does have 26 tenants signed to leases, including two enclosed sit-down restaurants, a Blimpie's sub sandwich shop and a Mama Ilardo's pizza shop -- something some observers thought would not happen in the poor, crime-ridden area.

"I'm so happy I could shout. We've seen our dream come true," said Lena J. Boone, president of the Upton Neighborhood Association and president and chairman of The Avenue Market Corp. board, the nonprofit group that owns the market's building.

City officials, community leaders and developers say the renovation -- which included some $2.5 million in public funds -- heralds the return of the once-popular Pennsylvania Avenue shopping and entertainment district, which fell on hard times after riots in the 1960s.

"It's the kick-off to the revitalization of Pennsylvania Avenue. It will serve as the focus of commercial activity in that part of town," said City Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III, who has helped oversee the transformation.

The 70-year-old market has a dramatically different look, including a shiny red coat of paint trimmed with a green and black border that may be seen from blocks away. A black and white frieze resembling African "mud cloth" encircles the top.

Inside the market, to create an Afrocentric bazaar atmosphere, flags from 24 African countries are to be hung from the ceiling by today along with flags of the city, the state and the United States.

This week, with no signs to tell where specific businesses would be located, one had to imagine what the 20,000-square-foot cement block building would look like once the stalls are filled with fresh produce, meats and vegetables and prepared food.

The interior, which was dirty and dilapidated when the market closed more than a year ago, is now painted a light beige and has bright lights and a raised stage for entertainment. A sound system was installed, too.

Gone is the liquor store that sold half-size bottles of spirits that were often consumed right outside the market, creating an atmosphere that deterred shoppers.

Market developers boast that they've met the goal that two-thirds of the businesses be black-owned. Korean-Americans own the rest.

Some 18 tenants are signed to five-year leases, the rest to shorter leases of varying lengths.

About 170 jobs at the market are to be filled by area residents.

The market's board is still hoping to get a dry cleaners. Instead of a bank, there will be at least two automatic teller machines, and a check-cashing concern is to open in the east end of the market, said Suzanne Graham, senior project manager for Metroventures, the market's developer.

She said banks didn't think it would be profitable to open in the market.

The renovated market's opening has been delayed about three weeks until Dec. 14 because it took longer than expected for market merchants, some of whom are first-time business owners, to get loans, said Graham. At the request of the developer, the Council for Economic and Business Opportunity arranged for the federal Small Business Administration to underwrite the loans, then the banks "came on board," Graham said.

The nonprofit Avenue Market Corp. has hired a property management company to oversee operations. It has also contracted with private firms to provide security and janitorial services.

Downtown Partnership guides also will patrol the market area to increase the feeling of security, Henson said.

Pub Date: 11/23/96

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