Sinkhole doesn't hurt nearby businesses

Curious watch as crews try to find cracked pipe

July 27, 2004|By Amy Segreti and Malena Amusa | Amy Segreti and Malena Amusa,SUN STAFF

City workers ripped up asphalt yesterday around a sinkhole in Baltimore's historic Mount Vernon district, seeking to find a cracked sewer pipe 40 feet beneath the surface.

But the yards of orange fencing and warning signs didn't seem to deter customers from the area around the 600 block of Cathedral St., as businesses reported a steady stream of traffic.

"This will probably have minimal impact on our attendance, since people still have access to the museum," said Michael Smith, director of marketing and communications at the Walters Art Museum.

One block west of the museum, Jason Curtis, general manager of Peabody Court Hotel, said he received no complaints from guests about the sinkhole just feet from the hotel's entrance.

When it was discovered last week, the sinkhole was relatively small -- just a couple of feet in diameter. But city officials feared the street might collapse, and closed off the area.

The culprit is believed to be an 82-inch-wide pipe, or sewer tunnel, installed 40 feet underground in the early 1900s. Officials believe a crack could have allowed dirt to erode and be swept away, creating conditions for the street to sink in last week.

To reach the pipe and begin repairs, workers dug away an area of about 10 feet by 20 feet, as city engineers gathered yesterday morning to calculate the best plan of action. Repairs could take up to a month, officials said.

Peabody Court Hotel attendants first noticed the trouble area developing Friday during their early-morning shift.

"It started off as a regular-size pothole," said Joe Kennick, a valet manager. But as cars continued driving over it, the surrounding street expanded and eventually sunk into a 10-foot- deep hole of cracked asphalt and dirt.

Three days later, the sinkhole seemed less intimidating for pedestrians and local businesses.

"The novelty [of the hole] will wear off soon," said Richard Gorelick, a Mount Vernon resident who strayed two blocks from his normal route to see the sinkhole.

With warning signs detouring southbound traffic off of Cathedral, business continued as usual, Kennick said as he checked dozens of visitors into the hotel.

Meanwhile, the site's orange plastic fencing attracted passers-by as city engineers assessed possible damage to the area's waterlines.

"People should come and have a drink at the hotel and come see the sinkhole," said James A. MacCutheon, a Peabody Court owner. After noticing an increasing number of people gawking at the sinkhole, he jokingly encouraged his business partners to put up a lemonade stand beside it.

"We won't charge for the view," he said.

Sun staff writer Sheeba Raj contributed to this article.

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