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Lexington Market
City officials hope that an overhaul of Lexington Market will spur a revitalization of the westside Baltimore neighborhood. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Fowler: Lexington Market renovation costs unknown

Although no changes to Lexington Market have been set in stone, there is growing consensus on what improvements are needed to bring the struggling historic facility up to date.

But the cost of that renovation plan remains unknown, the new leader of the market said Friday.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced Friday that Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Inc. President Kirby Fowler will serve as the chairman of the board for both the Baltimore Public Markets Corp. and Lexington Market Inc.

In a telephone interview following the announcement, Fowler said changes such as lowering merchants stalls closer to customers, improving natural lighting and adding an outdoor element are generally agreed on by board members.

“Also, we’ve learned from investigating other markets that it’s important to have mixed-uses in the markets. What I mean by that is we need to have seating next to stalls and a variety of stalls as well,” Fowler said. “If you look at the current Lexington Market the seating is all in one area, the performance area is completely separate from the dining area and that’s not a recipe for a successful market.”

He also disputed a widely reported figure that renovations to the market are expected to cost $25 million. Fowler said he has no idea how much renovations to the market will cost but said during the last decade most places have invested between $15 million and $30 million to renovate markets.

“I was speaking with the mayor’s office yesterday and they were trying to figure out where this $25 million figure came from because we have no idea how much it will cost to implement changes at the market,” he said. “We are at the tail end of a consultant study on the market with some suggestions for architectural and other design changes, and we have no idea what the market’s board will propose and ultimately accept.”

Lexington Market, once at the heart of a thriving downtown shopping district buoyed by surrounding department stores, has experienced a long, slow decline following post-World War II flight to the suburbs. Portrayals of the area, like in National Geographic Channel’s “Drugs, Inc.: The High Wire,” as an open-air drug market hasn’t helped the market’s perception either.

Fowler, a longtime member of the Baltimore Public Markets Corp. and Lexington Market boards, succeeds Stephen M. Kraus,who is chief of the Bureau of Treasury Management in the Department of Finance. Kraus will stay on as the treasurer of Lexington Market Inc.

“Kirby understands, from every perspective, the role our public markets play in the history and future of Baltimore’s communities, and he shares my vision that the markets can better serve their customers,” Rawlings-Blake said in a statement announcing the appointment.

About Adam Bednar

Adam Bednar covers real estate and development for The Daily Record.