Pigtown struggles to revitalize

art festival aims to draw businesses

Artdromeda brings art, music, possibly revitalization

May 08, 2010|By Jessica Anderson, The Baltimore Sun

By day, Washington Boulevard, the main street of Pigtown, has a steady stream of foot traffic, but few places for people to go.

The street just off Martin Luther King Boulevard is lined with vacant store fronts, boarded or locked by iron gates.

But signs of life remain, such as a coffeehouse, a dance studio, an art gallery and a graphic design office.

"It's frustrating not to be able to walk out your front door" and walk to shops and restaurants. "We all live here for the convenience," said Ryan Bruchey, a nine-year Pigtown resident and member of the Barre Circle Home Owners Association.

For years, the neighborhood has had a predicted upswing because of its prime location — near Interstate 95 and Route 295, with the potential of attracting Washington buyers and its close proximity to downtown and Camden Yards. But proponents of the neighborhood said it has failed to obtain a destination status for even its own residents, forcing them to take a cab over to Federal Hill and elsewhere for nightlife and entertainment.

So to promote the corridor the Pigtown Main Street program sponsored Artdromeda, a nighttime music and arts festival, presenting artists' work from around the city and beyond and live music. The second, biannual event was designed to have "artists help turn the neighborhood," said organizer Daryl Landy, executive director of the Pigtown Main Street program.

As the sun went down, Washington Boulevard was transformed Friday and Saturday night, with plywood coverings becoming the backdrop for artwork. Community leaders have even embraced the old Pigtown name, eschewing the more upscale-sounding "Washington Village."

"It's a demonstration of what Pigtown can look like … for people to see the potential so we can get some businesses here," said Landy, a resident of four years. "The neighborhood has improved a lot, but we still have issues," he said.

"The real issue is the commercial corridor," said Clausen Ely, a Camden Crossing resident of five years and a real estate agent. He was describing a "vacant, barely standing structure" in the 700 block of Washington Blvd.

Bruchey said he had hoped the area would get a "destination bar" where residents can hang out, but also draw patrons from other parts of the city. He said he heard of a city bar owner who would open another location in Pigtown. The Baltimore Sun reported last year that Jason Zink, owner of Don't Know and No Idea taverns, considered a Washington Boulevard location. But he was concerned that there wouldn't be enough foot traffic, despite the nearby medical school and stadiums, to bring a steady stream of business.

Bruchey and Landy said that while residents want some local places to go after hours, they said they don't want quite the nightlife of Federal Hill or Fells Point. But even with a new establishment, Pigtown faces other issues.

Housing prices have dropped sharply compared with other areas of the city. Housing data shows the average home sale price in Pigtown dropped from $171,411 in 2006 to $120,224 in 2009, according to the Metropolitan Regional Information Systems data. In 2006, 216 homes sold, compared with 97 in 2009.

When one walks away from the main thoroughfare, it becomes apparent the building and rehabbing boom has slowed. Some houses near completion still have stickers on the windows, while others remain just a brick frame.

"We've been on the brink for quite some time," said Bruchey, referring to the vacant houses. "I think if we would've had another six months, we would've had it." Before the bust, he said "you couldn't walk three blocks without seeing a construction site."

While the value of the Pigtown real estate has dwindled, the area several blocks west of the 700 and 800 blocks remains a prime spot for prostitutes, prompting the blog Baltimore John Watch to use video vigilantism to try to curb the trade.

But, Landy and Bruchey said the situation, like much of the neighborhood, has improved.

"People are proud to live here, they weren't before that," Bruchey said. "It's probably the most diverse neighborhood" in the city, he said. "Every block is so different."

But one issue has seemed to be resolved in Pigtown — the name.

"When you tell people you are from Pigtown, you're going to get a reaction," said Landy, noting pigs used to run through the streets on their way to slaughterhouses. "You can't beat the history."

Bruchey is also for Pigtown, calling the name "quirky," giving the area character. Pigtown had "seen its ups and downs," Bruchey said, but, "it's too nice of an area. I don't think it's going to go down."

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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