Improvements in the works for Pennsylvania Avenue

Morgan State students to aid community group with revitalization project

May 27, 2002|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

A new partnership between Morgan State University and a neighborhood redevelopment group could bring much-needed improvements to the historic heart of Pennsylvania Avenue in Baltimore.

Beginning in the fall, graduate students from the university's Institute for Urban Research will use the avenue as a real-world laboratory for projects in areas such as landscape architecture and design.

George Gilliam, executive director of the Pennsylvania Avenue Redevelopment Collaborative, said the students and their professors also might work on designing area bus stops and restoring the facade to the famous Arch Social Club.

"We're looking for architectural plans that the Pennsylvania Avenue collaborative can put in effect to build on," said Gilliam. "This partnership is not just for theory."

The partnership began to take shape last month, when Gilliam made overtures to Morgan administrators. Maurice Taylor, dean of the School of Graduate Studies, said the request was in line with the university's plans for its urban institute.

"Their goal is to develop a plan for the redevelopment of Pennsylvania Avenue and the surrounding area," said Taylor. "We want to create a useful product."

The university has formed other partnerships with community agencies and with various schools throughout the city. Students involved in the Pennsylvania Avenue project will likely be able to receive graduate credits for their work.

Taylor, whose family once owned a rowhouse near North and Pennsylvania avenues, said the collaboration was something of a homecoming. He remembers his father taking him to the old city market, since renovated and renamed the Avenue Market.

"I remember it being a bustling commercial enterprise, lots of people, lots of food, lots of smells," he said. "The impression I got now was how different it was."

Last year, Baltimore Public Markets Corp. took over management of the troubled market. The 20,000-square-foot complex of grocer's stalls and fast-food stands is about half-empty and has struggled for several years. City officials spent millions renovating the building and had hoped the market would become a centerpiece for neighborhood revitalization.

Progress has been spotty along Pennsylvania Avenue. The area's Rite Aid closed last month, a victim of corporate restructuring, said Gilliam. But, there have been signs of progress.

A Foot Locker store opened last year. Across from the market, the finishing touches are being put on Legends, the first restaurant the avenue has seen in years. The 6,000-square-foot restaurant will seat about 50 people and will be decorated with portraits of musicians and other prominent figures from the glory days of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Gilliam said these improvements, along with help from Morgan's students and professors, will further commercial development along the avenue's business corridor. The area has received financial and technical assistance through the city's Main Streets program. The publicly financed effort is designed to improve neighborhood business districts by upgrading the physical environment, building cooperation among merchants and residents, promoting the area and strengthening its economic base.

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