Lexington Market to get major face lift

$3.5 million overhaul includes stalls, windows

March 21, 2001|By Neal Thompson | Neal Thompson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's popular Lexington Market, which has sold produce and meats at the same downtown spot for more than two centuries, is set to receive a $3.5 million face lift in the coming months.

Larger windows, wider entrances and new stalls, signs and lights are part of the plan, which is scheduled to receive the go-ahead from the city's Board of Estimates today. The market's orange-and-red awnings would be torn down and replaced with a lattice of iron girders and red awnings.

Funding for the project would be provided by a combination of loans and state grants. The city, which leases the market buildings to the nonprofit Lexington Market Inc., would not have to pay any costs, but the conditions of the lease require the Board of Estimates to approve major changes to the buildings.

A newly renovated market is one piece of Baltimore's plan to revitalize the west side of downtown. City officials and private developers, who unveiled a strategic plan last week for the west side, have long envisioned the market as an anchor for the residential and office projects being built or designed for the neighborhoods surrounding it.

Leonard Jaslow, general manager for Lexington Market Inc., said the timing is right for a major overhaul, "so we can be in tune with all the energy that's being produced in the area right now."

Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse outbid five companies for the contract and will begin work next month. Construction is expected to take 11 months. The market will not close during renovations.

Some of the market's 137 merchants said a face lift is overdue.

The owners of Berger's cakes and cookies, who for three decades have sold chocolate tops, shortbread and lemon turnovers from a stall at the market, said business has been good but flat. They said the upgrades should attract more customers.

"We need it," said Fannie Houvardas, whose husband, Mike, owns Berger's retail stall at the market. "We need something to refresh the market."

The original Lexington Market, established 219 years ago at Eutaw and Lexington streets, was a collection of stalls under sheds that burned in 1949. The air-conditioned brick-and-glass building opened in 1952, and a two-story addition was built in 1982.

Minor upgrades have been done since 1982, and the market has shown signs of aging. Tony Jones, who sells pork, veal and lamb at Tamberino's prime meats, said the market has gotten dirtier and become a home for roaches, mice and rats. "They need better pest control," he said.

Some components of the overhaul, such as a new outdoor dining balcony and a large globe atop the market, have been cut from the original plan unveiled a year ago. The upgrades are not expected to affect merchants' rent prices.

Jaslow said the biggest change customers will notice is the loss of the "big ugly orange awnings" and the addition of new windows that will bring more light into the bustling market.

"We came to realize the big awnings cast a darkness over the market," he said.

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