A work in progress

Eastern Avenue: Regional library, art center and new drugstore are signs revitalization is succeeding.

November 26, 1999

THE RECENT closing of Haussner's robbed the Highlandtown neighborhood of its 73-year-old landmark restaurant. That's why a wave of development on Eastern Avenue is so encouraging.

The Enoch Pratt Free Library has announced plans to construct its first regional "super library" at Eastern Avenue and Eaton Street. The $8 million library should open in 2003.

The multimillion-dollar conversion of the old Patterson Theater into a cultural arts center has started. When completed in 2001, the complex will include a 150-seat theater, an art gallery and caf plus 11 studios for artists.

Walgreen's is building a flagship drugstore at Eastern Avenue and Haven Street, adding much-needed retail muscle to a commercial strip that has been pockmarked with vacancies.

Eastern Avenue's revitalization is not without controversy. Many old-timers who remember a variety of stores within walking distance view certain changes with fear and suspicion. But without strong new anchors, the area is in danger of deteriorating into a stretch of porn shops and sleaze, which already have tried to encroach.

As Highlandtown boosters look into the future, they must find ways to take care of the needs of the area's large aging population and attract the next generation of homeowners. Soaring real estate prices in nearby Canton have made many streets attractive to buyers seeking more affordable alternatives.

Because revitalization efforts coincide with this infusion of new residents there is real hope for Eastern Avenue's commercial revitalization. It will not be the fondly remembered stretch of businesses such as Haussner's, Epstein's and Woolworth's. They are gone and will never return. But with a new mix of shops and services, Highlandtown could stage a retail comeback.

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