Business plan needed for Avenue Market

Downturn: As residential demolition continues, city's last subsidized market racks up losses.

October 16, 1999

THREE YEARS ago, when the city gave the old Lafayette Market a $4 million face lift and renamed it Avenue Market, hopes ran high that the newly created venture would become the centerpiece of Pennsylvania Avenue renewal.

That has not happened. Instead, the West Baltimore market is in such dire straits that the city recently had to funnel a $200,000 emergency allocation just to keep the electricity on.

Worse still, no turnaround is in sight.

Hundreds of nearby rowhouses have been allowed to deteriorate or are vacant in anticipation of a huge redevelopment project centering on the demolished Murphy Homes public housing project.

That means the elimination of much of the residential clientele who could walk to Avenue Market's food stalls or neighboring Pennsylvania Avenue shops.

A turnaround could happen if planned townhouses are built and new homebuyers are drawn to the area. But that will take years, even under the best circumstances. Meanwhile, what will happen to Avenue Market, the last municipal market surviving through a taxpayer subsidy? How long will City Hall keep pouring money into it, if the market is not fully leased and does not draw adequate patronage?

When The Sun's Opinion Commentary page recently sought ways to strengthen the market, many respondents called for better policing and ridding the area of drugs.

Those measures are an obvious beginning, but they are not enough. Along with the construction on the former Murphy Homes site, the next administration should develop a commercial revitalization strategy for Pennsylvania Avenue that includes short- and long-term plans for making the Avenue Market viable enough to pay its own way.

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