Impact of bus station depends on O'Malley

Challenge: City must bolster Penn Station area

Greyhound must prevent panhandling and loitering.

November 23, 2001

CHARLES STREET boosters' objections to a new bus terminal come far too late. Greyhound has already won crucial approvals for its $15 million depot and garage near Amtrak's Penn Station. The project also has Mayor Martin O'Malley's unflagging support.

Despite its seeming inevitability, though, it's not too late to make sure that the bus terminal is done right.

Greyhound Lines Inc. must guarantee it will operate a station that will not become a magnet for vagrants and panhandlers. Mayor O'Malley must pledge to improve the area around Penn Station. It must not become a dumping ground. Luckily, nothing ever came of the misguided idea of relocating the Our Daily Bread soup kitchen there. But the corridor is already home to a variety of agencies combating everything from AIDS to heroin addiction. In fact, two such programs are in the midst of a multimillion-dollar expansion.

The concentration of so many service agency clients and the expected bus station could undermine the slow and spotty improvement of recent years. The Charles movie complex, the new Tapas Teatro restaurant and the Everyman Theater are symbols of what is possible. All of them are located in the pivotal two blocks between Penn Station and North Avenue.

In a city with as many social ills as Baltimore, there is nothing wrong with more drug treatment or free food distribution centers. But if the turnaround of the Penn Station area is ever to be achieved, the vicinity needs more variety than that.

For decades, some diehard speculators have bet on the area north of Penn Station. It's only a matter of time, they've argued, before the old commercial buildings and Edwardian rowhouses are revitalized.

A turnaround has taken far longer than those optimists figured. But at long last it may finally be on the horizon.

Last year, the Maryland Institute College of Art moved its post-baccalaureate artists, including studios, to the old Jos. A. Bank building on North Avenue, between Charles and Howard streets. More artists will be coming since less than half of the building is occupied.

With huge industrial buildings mostly vacant just a few blocks away along Guilford Avenue and Federal Street, the area has potential for arts and crafts uses and loft apartments. All it needs is imaginative developers, confident investors and the nurturing that city government can provide.

The amazing transformation of New York's Port Authority bus station shows that vagrants and beggars are not inevitable at a big, crowded bus depot. Greyhound must promise to adhere to similar high standards if it builds its new terminal next to Penn Station.

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