Follow the money

September 09, 2002

IN A HEARTENING turn of fortune for downtown Baltimore, Antwerpen Automotive Group now wants to open a Volkswagen showroom and repair shop in a Little Italy parking garage at Pratt and President streets.

Although the details still need to be ironed out, the news is still astounding. This would mark the first time cars have been sold downtown since the 1970s, when Hobelman Motors closed its Federal Hill showroom.

Antwerpen is simply following the money here. There are plenty of highly paid people downtown, many of them suburban commuters who want convenient services near their workplaces.

The construction of several new apartment complexes downtown has further increased consumer demands, and the market is responding: A new Whole Foods emporium recently opened in Inner Harbor East, next to a top-flight wine store. More lifestyle retailers catering to the affluent are coming.

The redevelopment momentum around Inner Harbor East is now so strong that the whole area from President Street to Broadway is likely to be transformed over the next decade. As incomes rise, demand for more services and retail will increase.

The bigger picture shows a downtown that, after more than three decades of shrinking, is finally growing in population and income. It has expanded to Inner Harbor East and Federal Hill; it is recapturing the Howard Street corridor, and moving toward Mount Vernon along Charles and Calvert streets.

Antwerpen is not the first car dealer that has been tracking this trend; two others scouted downtown locations a few years ago but gave up. The difference now is that the timing seems right.

This can't be anything but good news in a city that is mostly accustomed to hearing bad -- because nothing succeeds like success.

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