Charles Village business district presented with plan for success 'Main Street' session offers ways to attract shoppers

August 29, 1998|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

A "Main Street" program to revitalize the Charles Village business district was presented Thursday night at a community meeting at Lovely Lane Methodist Church.

Business owners were told to use attractive signs, repair crumbling brickwork, decorate window fronts and avoid metal grating. They also were advised to urge banks to invest in the area and to organize community events and festivals that attract shoppers.

So began an effort to spruce up the business corridors of the Charles Village Community Benefits District (CVCBD) through the state-funded "Main Street Maryland" program.

Representatives from the nonprofit National Trust for Historic Preservation and other cities outlined these "high-impact, low-cost" recommendations for business owners in the 100-square-block area in North Baltimore.

Focusing on "the spine of our community," as CVCBD president Tom Shafer put it, the proposals were aimed at businesses on North Charles Street from 20th to 25th streets, 25th Street from North Charles to Greenmount Avenue, and Greenmount from 25th to 35th streets.

At several seminars from Tuesday to Thursday, experts from Pittsburgh, Boston and Washington analyzed the most pressing needs in the community, an ethnically and racially diverse area that borders the Johns Hopkins University and comprises about 15,000 residents.

"The focus groups were designed so [visiting] resource teams could hear from a little bit of everybody," explained Shafer. To him, the best part of the new program is that experts do more than analyze problems; they help to implement solutions.

The first result of the "Main Street" program, said Tracy Durkin, director of the district, is likely to be improvements of the facades of buildings.

Maryland Housing Secretary Patricia J. Payne announced Thursday night that the state would match the amount of money Charles Village business owners invest in restoring and repairing their building fronts. "Physical change tends to inspire people to shop and invest," Durkin said.

She said the district is one of five Maryland communities -- and the only one in Baltimore -- to participate in the "Main Street" program.

Jennifer Rose, who administers a similar program in Boston, said the program's goal is revitalizing the aging, crumbling business district rather than gentrification, which tends to drive out longtime residents.

"In cities, neighborhoods are especially vulnerable to gentrification and the displacement that goes with it," she said.

Pub Date: 8/29/98

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