Panel offers Federal Hill makeover ideas

Grant consultants suggest market as town center, focus on history, shops

March 20, 2001|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Federal Hill, which has bleached its blue collar almost white during the past two decades, is trying to convert its stores and streets to reflect the change.

While the upscale neighborhood south of the Inner Harbor is known for its restaurants, bars and renovated rowhomes, it lacks the shopping to make it a round-the-clock destination in Baltimore.

"The next phase is filling in the gaps between the restaurants to keep people here from early in the morning until late at night," said Hilary Greenberg, a retail leasing consultant from Charlotte, N.C., who was part of a national "Main Street" panel in town last week to help assess Federal Hill's business potential.

"It's the normal evolution of a business district, and it has to be done systematically," she said at a luncheon at Matsuri Restaurant on Charles Street.

Last week, Greenberg and four other consultants hired by the "Main Street" program made recommendations to help the neighborhood, which has about a 20 percent vacancy rate in its business district.

The average home price in Federal Hill is $155,000, but the neighborhood is marked with dilapidated storefronts and often has trash littering its streets. That's one reason it was among seven city neighborhoods to win a Main Street grant in July.

The Main Street grants are funded from a $1.5 million pool of city and state money, which will be used over the next four years to fix building facades, clean storefronts and help neighborhoods establish business plans aimed at making their stores thrive. Each neighborhood gets $260,000.

Federal Hill was the first to be visited by Main Street's national panel of experts, a group tailored to suit each neighborhood.

In Federal Hill, the panel included an architect, a business recruiter, an organizer and a heritage tour consultant.

They suggested that Cross Street Market be promoted as the town center and that its hours be extended. They recommended that the neighborhood establish a stronger identity to lure prospective business owners who could fill stores.

They recommended business owners find out more about the neighborhood's history and get the word out so people would want to visit. Federal Hill Park was the site of a parade and party celebrating Maryland's ratification of the Constitution in 1788. Union troops built barricades on the hill during the Civil War.

The neighborhood panel also plans to offer guided walking tours and distribute pamphlets explaining the history and architecture.

The experts also advised the neighborhood to find out who its residents are and what kind of stores they want.

They suggested residents might prefer to buy fresh juice at a shop - which the neighborhood does not have - rather than by the bottle from a convenience store.

Another issue in the neighborhood is lack of parking, a tension that should ease in October, when a $5 million, 258-space garage is scheduled to be completed.

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