Jinji Fraser says she has grown up at Belvedere Square Market.
With her business partners — Ryan Artes and her father, Guy Fraser — the 30-year-old maker of chocolate bonbons is the newest merchant in the North Baltimore market that is in the midst of a chic makeover. Her store, Jinji, is a vegan, gluten-free, raw dessert shop.
“We all want so badly to create an amazing product,” she said of the market’s vendors.
“We are trying to create a community. It’s not only about money, it’s about fostering a true identity.”
Since she started work at Belvedere Square when she was 20 years old, Fraser has witnessed the 12,000-square-foot market’s transformation — a change that continued this year.
A neon marquee installed this fall gives the development a cosmopolitan look. New striped awnings complement the façade, along with a fresh coat of green paint. Widened sidewalks fit large tables for outdoor diners who sit under heated umbrellas sipping lattes and eating brunch on the weekends.
The upgrades are meant to usher in a new era for the market, a beloved but controversial landmark for years.
Scott Plank, brother of Under Armour founder Kevin Plank, is a new part owner of the property and has infused much-needed capital into the development in an attempt to take it to the next level.
“He believes in supporting independent, local businesses,” said Nona Nielson-Parker, chef and co-general manager of Atwater’s, a popular local restaurant and bakery that started in Belvedere Square about 10 years ago and has since expanded to several locations, including Washington and Northern Virginia.
“The market needed some energy, good ideas and money.”
Atwater’s menu of soups (it includes sweet potato bisque with shrimp and black-eyed pea) has grown to include salads, pot pies and baked goods.
The reopening of the nearby Senator Theatre on York Road this fall prompted the market’s owners to extend its operating hours to 10 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, which has attracted new business and diners, Nielson-Parker said. Atwater’s even got a liquor license to serve beer and wine.
“And they fixed the music system,” she said of Plank’s supervision of the property. “So music came back in the market.”
Local developers Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse Inc., Williams Jackson Ewing and Manekin LLC helped to reopen Belvedere Square Market in 2003 before selling a portion of it to Plank within the past 18 months.
Struever, whose Cross Street Partners manages the property today, could not be reached for comment on Monday; neither could Plank.
The market has experienced success and failure in the Govans neighborhood. Belvedere Square first opened in 1986 and was a hub of local retail and fresh produce sales for about a decade.
Then a dispute between the city and James J. Ward III, the market’s original developer, left the property aimless, and it plunged into vacancy and blight.
In 2003, new owners pumped $16 million into the market — thanks in part to $4 million in city and state funds, including a $1.7 million tax increment financing, or TIF, bond sale pushed by the Baltimore Development Corp. That TIF required a special tax in 2011 from the city’s Department of Finance to repay private bond holders because the market did not generate enough revenues to repay the TIF bonds.
The market reopened in 2003 and has been going strong ever since, said Dorian Brown, manager of Neopol, a savory and smoke gourmet food stand that has been there for years.
Some of the vendors and stores include Planet Produce, Earth’s Essence, Farmstead Cheese, Greg’s Bagels, Grand Cru and Dutch Floral Gardens. A new casual restaurant, Spike and Amy Gjerde’s Shoo-Fly Diner, opened this fall.
“The latest changes have put a little fresh energy into it,” Brown said. “The goal is to make this the best market in the country.”
Shy Johnson, 24, who has worked at Neopol for years, agreed.
“I’ve seen the market go from easy-breezy to up-and-coming. It’s evolving,” she said. “It’s like Paris, France, in Maryland.”