A new, improved flamingo

Hampden bird returns to restaurant roost after run-in with city inspector is resolved

  • Lori Drinks of Hampden is decked out in flamingo headware for the unveiling of the newly reconstructed pink flamingo at Cafe Hon. An $800 "minor privilege" fee imposed to allow the bird to stay perched was cut in half after Mayor Sheila Dixon interceded.
Lori Drinks of Hampden is decked out in flamingo headware for… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth…)
November 19, 2009|By Frank D. Roylance | Baltimore Sun reporter

The bird is back.

Or, rather, a new and improved fiberglass pink flamingo has come to roost on the fire escape above Hampden's Cafe Hon, replacing the chicken-wire-and-bedsheets bird that was shooed away by a city code inspector last month.

After a compromise was worked out with City Hall, an $800 "minor privilege" fee imposed to allow the bird to stay perched over the city sidewalk was cut in half. Cafe owner Denise Whiting then ordered up a new bird. She unveiled it Wednesday night with music, searchlights and another bit of only-in-Baltimore marketing genius.

With a tug on a pink boa by Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, a black plastic drape fell to the sidewalk and revealed the revitalized Hampden landmark to a cheering crowd of several hundred.

Whiting credited Dixon for working to resolve the problem, saying "she ... really understands how important it is to support small businesses in Baltimore."

Dixon then thanked the crowd for supporting the cafe, and saluted city agencies for helping to find a solution. "It's not just the bricks and mortar of our neighborhoods; it's the people" that make them great, she said.

Then she urged people in the crowd to "come in and spend some money." She took her own advice, stepping inside to sign plastic flamingos, pose for snapshots and buy a take-out container of turkey corn chowder.

The flamingo controversy began last month when Whiting balked at paying the $800 fee to keep the old flamingo. The fee is based on the size of objects that intrude into public space - in this case, over the sidewalk at 36th Street and Roland Avenue.

The sculpture (like the new bird) was crafted seven years ago by artist Randall Gornowich, and had hung from the restaurant's fire escape ever since.

A city inspector, responding to a complaint from another Hampden business, found no permit on record and told Whiting to pay the $800 fee or remove the bird. Whiting argued the bird was art, and didn't require a permit. But four weeks ago she took it down.

On Oct. 27, supporters erected scores of plastic pink flamingos outside City Hall, and by the next day, the city had recalculated the flamingo's dimensions and cut the minor privilege permit fee to $400.

Whiting's talks with Dixon also led the mayor to agree to do more to promote Hampden. A "Hampden Exit 9A" sign previewed at last night's festivities will be erected on the Jones Falls Expressway.

Cafe Hon owner Denise Whiting was misidentified in an earlier version of this article. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.

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