The writer is executive director, House of Ruth Baltimore Inc.
West-side blaze steals city history
The fire at 423 W. Baltimore St. Jan. 19 should not be treated as just another old warehouse fire ("Fire damages city building with historic cast-iron facade," Jan. 20).
The building that burned survived Baltimore's great fire of 1904. It is one of the few cast-iron facade structures left in Baltimore, and deserves some respect.
It sits in an area ripe for redevelopment, however, and could be seen as a stumbling block to progress.
But every time one of these architectural marvels becomes a victim of neglect and is destroyed, a piece of our history is lost forever. Can't we protect and preserve what wonders we have?
In other cities, it has been proven that the preservation of downtown districts is not only visually gratifying, but financially stimulating.
So, why is it that the city initiative to redevelop the west side has left so many historic buildings facing demolition?
It might be cheaper to tear down the buildings and rebuild, but it is usually worth the extra efforts to work with preservationists to save the buildings we have left.
I hope Judith Siegel, the owner of the building that caught fire, will do her best to stand in the way of the wrecking ball.
John Ellsberry, Baltimore
Wrecking history, livelihoods
Based on the editorial "Mayor gains leverage through builder choice" (Jan. 8), it is clear that, with regard to revitalizing the west side of downtown Baltimore, The Sun still doesn't get it.
Large-scale demolition is just bad policy, especially at a time when cities such as Boston, Denver and St. Louis are using historic tax credits to renovate historic buildings and upgrade downtown districts.
Studies have shown that this is the most cost-effective (and least disruptive) way to revitalize urban centers.
Preservation Maryland and its partners have advocated listing Baltimore's west side on the National Register of Historic Places, because this not only confirms the area's architectural and historic significance, but enables property owners to take advantage of tax credits that can fuel revitalization.
Baltimore's rich historic resources are assets, not liabilities: Just look at Canton, the American Can Co., the Power Plant and Federal Hill.
It is also unfortunate that The Sun turned a blind eye to the approximately 100 small, diverse, locally owned businesses being displaced by the west side renewal.
Since the failure rate of displaced businesses is very high, the city is, by forcing them to move, divesting itself of many hard-working African-American, Korean-American and other minority business owners and entrepreneurs.
Some of these merchants have been in the neighborhood for decades, through good times and bad. None have been included in the west side planning process.
Worse, in December, a number of them began receiving letters from the city stating, in effect, "Merry Christmas . . . We're taking your property."
In one instance, a property owner who paid $400,000 for a building in 1987 is being offered $170,000 for it today.
The editorial neglected to mention a third proposal, from Struever Bros. Eccles and Rouse, for the Eutaw Street parcel across from the Hippodrome Theater.
This proposal truly was superior, in terms of urban design, historic preservation and accommodating locally owned businesses.
Rather than imposing large towers on the neighborhood, this proposal blends the old with the new and maintains the prevailing scale of the block, while providing an exciting mix of residential, retail, office and entertainment uses.
It is sad that The Sun, which has exposed many of the city's ills, is unwilling to give the city's ill-conceived west-side revitalization process -- its largest redevelopment project since the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards -- the scrutiny it deserves.
Tyler Gearhart, Baltimore
The writer is executive director of Preservation Maryland.
American cities far from dead
I'm happy to announce that reports of the death of the American city have been greatly exaggerated ("In the information age, big cities are obsolete," letters, Jan. 9).
Despite decades of shameful and unprecedented neglect, our cities have begun to re-emerge as centers of information, culture, vibrancy and beauty.
There's still a long way to go, particularly here in Baltimore, but the trend is unmistakable.
Revitalization efforts are at their highest level in years. And urban real estate is hot, as people rediscover the joys of city life.
Why are cities proving to be so resilient? The answer is simple: Cities historically have been the dwelling places of humanity.
Society continually changes, but our fundamental need for places that foster interaction, provide inspiration and nourish the soul remains a constant.
This is what cities offer that suburbs cannot.
People are slowly realizing that car-dependent suburbs offer little besides social isolation and ever-worsening traffic congestion.