Waiting for takeoff

Baltimore: Investors focus on Lexington Market as a redevelopment anchor.

March 16, 2002

Can you buy air?

Pennrose Properties just did. It paid an undisclosed amount for an option to build a 250-unit apartment tower in the "air rights" over Lexington Market's garage.

Baltimore's ambitious west-side redevelopment is still in its initial stages. But already, canny investors are getting ready for the next phase. They are betting on the action moving north toward Lexington Market.

Across Greene Street from the garage Pennrose is eyeing, another developer is looking at a square block of abandoned or underutilized 19th century buildings. It wants to refashion them into 125 apartment units.

And a block away at Greene and Fayette streets, the University of Maryland is thinking of constructing 300 apartments for students at its downtown campus.

"There is momentum we have never had before," says Ronald M. Kreitner of the business-funded WestSide Renaissance Inc.

Bernard Berkowitz, who heads Lexington Market's board, says he is "reasonably optimistic" Pennrose could start construction next year.

The company would only build above the north end of the garage at Greene and Saratoga streets; the south end, which accommodates the west market and a largely empty four-story office building, would not be affected.

Given these realities, Lexington Market's board should take a hard look at the west market's viability as a food retail space. It is only partially occupied, and the time may have come to convert it, and the adjoining office building, into more profitable uses.

Lexington Market has been Baltimore's pantry since 1782. In recent years, though, changing shopping patterns and customers' preference for supermarkets have taken their toll. As a result, a stall selling CDs and videos recently cropped up smack in the middle of the west market's food vendors.

As the surrounding area is getting prepared for a takeoff, Lexington Market must plan ahead. Its management should concentrate on returning the main market building into the attractive and popular horn of plenty it once was.

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