EASTERN HOUSE, a Highlandtown eatery, has a new awning. Big deal. You bet.
After two decades of steady decline, the once-vibrant Eastern Avenue retail area is aiming at a comeback. Facades are being spruced up, thanks to a $37,500 state grant and a donation from Dome Corp., the for-profit development arm of Johns Hopkins University. Further redevelopment measures are on the drawing board.
Among them is a City Council ordinance that would require shop owners to take better care of the external appearance of their businesses and improve the district's management. The measure is scheduled for a July 17 hearing before the city planning commission.
The revitalization effort has brought together a wide range of interest groups, from the Highlandtown Merchants Association to the Southeast Development Initiative. They were prompted to action not only by the visible decline of the commercial core but also by the expiration of the urban renewal ordinance that has governed the area for the past 20 years.
Alfred W. Barry III, a planning consultant working on revitalization blueprints, says the Eastern Avenue commercial area in Highlandtown is ripe for a second coming. He thinks the area's retail spending is increasing as middle-income families replace retirees on limited incomes. He points to the proximity of I-95 and access to the area from throughout the metropolitan area.
Some 20 properties will get a face-lift as a result of the state grant and donation from Dome Corp. Meanwhile, Baltimore City officials have allocated $30,000 to improve the shopping area's lighting with more attractive fixtures.
Highlandtown activists realize it will take more than cosmetic changes to reduce the Eastern Avenue retail district's vacancy rate, which is currently more than 25 percent. Thus, while they are trying to interest big-name shops in moving to the area, they are also talking about attracting new amenities, including a regional super-library.
Revitalization of the Highlandtown shopping area is crucial if the surrounding residential neighborhoods hope to attract homeowners. The new plans have our strong support.
Pub Date: 7/13/97