New area lot to open

Federal Hill hails 254-space garage as end to retail woes

Ceremony set Wednesday

$5 million project, funded by city, state, was completed early

November 26, 2001|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

After waiting nearly two decades, parking-starved Federal Hill is finally getting a three-level garage, which neighborhood leaders hail as the answer to the area's problem attracting retail stores.

The 254-space, brick-faced structure on West Street south of the Cross Street Market will open Wednesday with a ceremony featuring food, music and a silent auction on the top level.

"As far as I'm concerned, the garage will turn the corner for Federal Hill," said Sonny Morstein, owner of Morstein's Jewelers on Light Street and president of the South Baltimore/Federal Hill Marketplace Business Association.

"We've struggled with the same refrain for the past 20 years: `Not enough parking.' It has frustrated patrons and potential business owners for years," Morstein said.

The $5 million garage will ease the area's parking shortage, which is exacerbated during Ravens and Orioles home games because PSINet Stadium and Oriole Park at Camden Yards are in Federal Hill's back yard.

The new garage is funded by the state, which is paying $1.26 million, and the city, which is covering the remainder.

It was built by Roy Kirby and Sons Inc., a Baltimore construction company, on a 34,000-square-foot site.

Morstein, who has been lobbying for the garage since the 1980s and who spearheaded an e-mail campaign to persuade legislators to help fund the project, said it is ready two months ahead of schedule, which has caught him off guard.

The city owns the garage, but the business association is charged with running it.

"The good news is we got the garage early," Morstein said. "The bad news is the controls are not in place. We haven't finalized the best way to operate it."

For instance, Morstein said, parking rates have not been set.

A block of spaces - the number has not been determined - will be set aside for monthly parkers who work in the area. The rest will be available for hourly parkers. During Ravens games, parkers will be charged a flat rate of between $15 and $25, which Morstein said is standard for lots near the stadium. No decision has been made about rates during Orioles games.

"The garage will be a tremendous boon to the area. Parking is the No. 1 complaint for everyone in Federal Hill and downtown, too," said Bonnie J. Crockett, executive director for the Federal Hill Main Street program, which is working to develop the area's commercial district. "It's something everyone's been waiting for."

The garage was built on Federal Hill's only public parking lot, on the north side of West Street between Charles and Light streets. While it was being built, the neighborhood sorely missed the surface lot's 103 spaces.

It caused temporary problems for businesses in Federal Hill, which has 224 metered spaces in the business district to serve about 116 stores, restaurants and bars.

There has also been turnover in neighborhood retail this year, with stores like Rite Aid and the Eddie's of Light Street supermarket closing. New stores, like Main Street Shoes, have opened, and still others, like Federal Hill Fitness, are on the way.

But most of the storefronts are bars and restaurants, which bring little daytime traffic, said Bernie Kayes, owner of Spoons coffee bar on East Cross Street.

"I am like a lot of other merchants who want more retail. We'll soon have all this parking here, but we have no day traffic except for people going to Cross Street Market," Kayes said. "Maybe the retail will come now. We're looking for the tourists. Maybe we can get some of the day traffic from the Inner Harbor."

Visitors will be charged $25 to attend the Garage Gala, with proceeds being donated to New York disaster-relief funds.

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