Korean-American center proposed Project would include grocery, ballroom

October 17, 1997|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

A developer unveiled plans yesterday for a project designed to become the social and commercial hub of Baltimore's Korean-American community.

The $6 million project, tentatively named the Charles Street Korean Center, would have a variety of services -- including a food court, an ethnic grocery and even a ballroom under one roof in the heart of the city's midtown Korean business district.

The center, a five-story building and a neighboring parking garage, would include the largest Korean grocery in the area, a fitness center and offices for the Korean Society of Greater Baltimore, said the developer, Steve Kang.

It would be, Kang said, a cultural center and gathering spot for Baltimore's Korean-Americans. "It would be good for the Korean community. We would have something to call our own," Kang said.

Dr. Jane Younghea Lew, who has a general medical practice and owns Hyundai Plaza, a minimall of Korean shops and offices in the 1900 block of N. Charles St., said the project has the potential to draw Korean-Americans from far-flung suburban homes -- especially those starving for a sizable market with ingredients for Korean cuisine.

"If the grocery store is going to be there, then they'll come down," said Lew, 69, who moved to Baltimore in 1955 as one of the city's first Korean immigrants.

But Lew said the Charles Street Korean Center planned for the northwest corner of Charles and 20th streets would face urban challenges, citing the neighborhood loitering and drug peddling hurting her business strip one block away.

The preliminary plans were presented yesterday to the city's Design Advisory Panel, which reviews proposals and issues recommendations on whether projects should be approved. Members of the panel recommended several changes, such as minimizing a "layered" look of the building's front facade reflected in the preliminary plan, and perhaps moving the ballroom from the main building to the top floor of a parking garage.

But the overall proposal received a warm response from board members.

"It's going to have a real social purpose and a business purpose," said Phoebe Stanton, an architectural historian who sits on the board. She said she wished the project was in a more visible location.

"I just wish it were on North Avenue. It deserves to be, as a real presence," she said.

The city's Korean-American business district is centered in an area just north of North Avenue. The cross streets between Charles Street and Maryland Avenue, in a neighborhood that has become known as lower Charles Village, are dotted with Korean businesses.

Some Korean-Americans live in that area, and many work in the city, but the overwhelmingly majority of the area's nearly 13,000 Koreans live in the suburbs in Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Howard counties.

In the city, Korean merchants have frequently been victims of violent crime, and caught up in racial tension between the immigrant grocers and the largely black communities where many do business. This year, black-led protests led to the closing of a Korean-owned market in Park Heights amid charges that the grocer had sold outdated meat.

Kang, a building contractor who would be making his debut as a developer with the Korean Center project, said the idea has been taking shape for several years. He is a principal in a partnership that owns much of the site of the planned center, and plans to buy the rest.

A building at the site, extensively damaged by fire last year, would be torn down to make way for the Korean center.

Kang said that more than 3,000 square feet of the 18,000 square feet of office space would be donated to the Korean Society of Greater Baltimore, which has headquarters nearby on North Ave. He and Perry P. Savoy, an adviser on the project, said they expect to break ground in about a year, and that construction would take 12 to 14 months.

Pub Date: 10/17/97

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