Rejuvenating 5 landmarks in Highlandtown Projects: Two closed movie theaters, two old stores and a former beauty school in the Southeast Baltimore community are being acquired for redevelopment with $1.3 million in state money.

March 26, 1998|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Five major Highlandtown landmarks -- including the now-closed Grand and Patterson movie theaters -- are being acquired by community agencies in an ambitious redevelopment project designed to rejuvenate the Southeast Baltimore shopping district beset by vacant storefronts and a declining customer base.

About 200 people heard state Sen. Perry Sfikas, a Greek-American Democrat from East Baltimore, describe plans last night for the $1.3 million in state funds designated for the Eastern Avenue Partnership, a coalition of business and community groups established two years ago.

"I believe we're on the eve of a golden age for Highlandtown," Sfikas told Highlandtown residents and merchants, who gathered at Haussner's Restaurant.

"I don't believe our cities are going to wither and die. I wasn't elected to put the lights out in East Baltimore."

Instead of trying to reopen the failed variety and department stores that once lined Eastern Avenue near Patterson Park, the coalition outlined these projects:

Buy the closed Patterson Theatre, built in 1930, and convert it into 12 live-in art studios for rent, a 100-seat auditorium and exhibition galleries. The theater, at Eastern and East avenues, is a project of the Fells Point Creative Alliance, a group of 200 artists.

Use a former beauty school at Eastern Avenue and Clinton Street for the Southeast Teen Academy, a center for youth entrepreneurship.

Convert the former Irvin's Department Store in the 3400 block of Eastern Ave. into a building for start-up, for-profit businesses and commercial uses. The site was recently donated to Southeast Development, Inc., a branch of the South East Community Organization.

Reopen the Grand Theatre, on Conkling Street below Eastern Avenue, as a three-screen theater to be run by George Figgs, whose Orpheum Theatre in Fells Point is slated to be replaced by a maritime center. The 1914 Grand -- a large former vaudeville and movie house -- is being touted as a place where commercial film companies can edit their works instead of sending them out of town.

Build an apartment building for senior citizens, sponsored by members of the Greek-American community who live nearby, at Eastern Avenue and Haven Street on the site of the former Goldenberg's variety store.

"This is a turning point for Highlandtown," said Kenneth Strong, director of Southeast Development Inc.

Sfikas said the city doesn't have the resources to rebuild Highlandtown, but he was able to get funds from the state.

"It was Christmas in Annapolis for neighborhoods like Highlandtown, Dundalk or Hamilton," Sfikas told the group. "I see the new residents these attractions will draw will help anchor the existing people here."

"I believe the time has come when we have to meet the challenge of the changing times," said the Rev. Luigi Esposito, pastor of Our Lady of Pompeii Roman Catholic Church on Claremont Street in Highlandtown. "We have a variety of neighborhoods and we're all pulling together."

Members of the Eastern Avenue Partnership include the South East Community Organization and its development arm, Southeast Development Inc.; the Highlandtown Merchants Association; the Dome Corp. of Johns Hopkins University, and other groups.

"Better than curse the darkness, let's light the candles," said Esposito, a longtime proponent of efforts to rejuvenate the community.

Pub Date: 3/26/98

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