Traffic on one of Baltimore's most important northbound streets will be snarled by a four-block detour around a huge construction site at Penn Station for two years starting in May.
Business owners along North Charles Street are worried that they will be hurt not only by the $23 million replacement of the crumbling Charles Street bridge over the Amtrak rails, but also by a $15 million project to build a Greyhound terminal north of Penn Station.
The newly expanded Charles Theatre, Everyman Theatre, Club Charles nightclub and at least a half-dozen other businesses north of Penn Station could see business decline because of the two projects, owners worry.
"We are trying to build a little theater district up here, and we are getting no help at all from the city," said Joy Martin, co-owner of the 50-year-old Club Charles. "This is going to be a mess."
Supporters of the construction projects, scheduled to be finished in 2002, say they will create a more efficient transportation hub for the city and boost local business by drawing more people to the struggling area.
The city this spring plans to reroute the roughly 22,000 cars a day heading north on Charles Street onto a four-block detour around the construction site -- sending drivers west on Mount Royal, north on Maryland and east on Lanvale Street or Lafayette Avenue.
Charles Street, which is one-way northbound, and Maryland Avenue, which is one-way southbound, will become two-way streets in the area to help traffic flow, city officials said.
During the 24-month project, city workers will erect signs to help direct drivers to the theaters and other businesses on North Charles Street, said Kurt Kocher, a spokesman for the city's Department of Public Works.
"We want to strongly encourage cars to stay on Charles Street and continue to drive by these businesses, so that they will continue to prosper," said Kocher.
The two construction projects will extend west and north of Penn Station.
The first project, starting in May, is the replacement of the decaying 1911 Charles Street Bridge over the Amtrak tracks and an adjacent span over the Jones Falls Expressway. The bridge is in such poor condition that chunks of concrete have fallen from it.
The project will add a plaza in front of Penn Station, create an entrance ramp to the station from Charles Street and create a route from the station's front door to the northbound lanes of the Jones Falls Expressway.
North of the station, on Lanvale Street, Greyhound plans to start building early next year a 42,000-square-foot bus terminal that will attract a half-million riders a year and replace the company's aging station at 210 W. Fayette St.
The new bus complex will include a coffee shop near the Charles Street theaters, a walkway over the tracks to the train station, a 300-space parking garage and a small park with trees, benches and a waterfall, said Mark Fallis, senior manager of real estate at Greyhound.
Designers hope that connecting the city's bus and train stations to public transportation on Charles Street and a bike trail along the Jones Falls will make it easier for people to get around the city.
Vincent Lancisi, artistic director of the 5-year-old Everyman Theatre at 1727 N. Charles St., said he worries that the bus station might bring in transients and create an easier transportation system for drug dealers.
"All the efforts made by the business community are being thwarted by the plan to build a bus station there," said Lancisi. "It's just going to be another drab, inner-city bus station with vagrants and people loitering outside."
Attendance at Everyman grew from 1,500 in its first year, 1995, to 10,000 last year, and the theater's owners hope to expand, Lancisi said. A restaurant and two nightclubs have opened nearby in the past five years.
To prevent crime problems with the new Greyhound station, the company is planning to build a police post inside and prohibit entrance to some areas without a ticket, said Fallis.
The station -- which is being funded by the city, state and Greyhound -- will be attractive, Fallis said, with art deco touches on its Charles Street side and a fountain on its St. Paul Street side.
The city has been talking about replacing the Charles Street Bridge for more than a decade.
William A. Geschrei, an associate with the Whitman, Requart and Associates engineering firm, which is working on the project, said construction might take 2 1/2 years because major work over the Amtrak power lines can be done only between about 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.
John Standiford, co-owner of the Charles Theatre at 1711 N. Charles St., said he is encouraged to hear that the city plans to put up signs to remind drivers how to get to the Charles Street businesses.
"It is a shame that we won't have nearly as many cars a day passing the theater," said Standiford, whose theater expanded from one to five screens in April. "But I'm glad the city is raising signs. As long as people know how to get here, I'm hoping it won't be a problem."
Phillip Quick, owner of Viccino's Bistro just south of the bridge at 1309 N. Charles St., said he thinks the bridge project will improve Penn Station and eventually help the entire neighborhood.
"I know that the bridge work will be a big pain. But anyone looking at that old bridge can tell that it's necessary," said Quick.