Public markets, once thought of as fading relics of a bygone era, have emerged as consistently important pieces in reviving urban areas.
Baltimore has taken notice.
Thriving urban areas from Seattle to Boston showed the potential for the markets, previously viewed as vestiges of a pre-supermarket nation, for providing public spaces. Public markets, while no longer primary sources for perishable goods, emerged as neighborhood centers offering farmers markets, concerts and in many cases casual dining.
“These markets are such critical parts of the city,” said Jim Mills, director of design and development for War Horse Cities, which is planning an overhaul of Hollins Market.
Baltimore, hoping to emulate the success of others, is trying to inject new life into its own public markets. But finding the resources to overhaul all of those assets could be an uphill battle. The Baltimore Public Markets Corp., which oversees operation of five of the city’s s public markets, has occasionally turned to partnerships with private developers to make the most of limited resources.
Robert E. Thomas, executive director of the Baltimore Public Markets Corp., said when he first took on the job he entertained a vision of simultaneous updates of the facilities. But, he said, it’s happenstance that four markets are in various stages of planning for renovations.
“This is the way it shook out because of private-sector interest. … It’s ironic that it would work out that way,” Thomas said.
‘A perpetual issue’
The most ambitious overhaul currently under consideration is the long-gestating redevelopment of Baltimore’s best-known public market, Lexington Market.
Lexington Market served at the heart of Baltimore’s Westside retail district that was home to such department stores as Hutzler’s and Hochschild Kohn. As those stores closed, or fled to the suburbs with their customers, the neighborhood and the market started a slow decline.
In late 2015, the Baltimore Public Markets Corp. unveiled plans involving the demolition of the current market building. Renderings by Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects depicted a new building with a glass-panel exterior; the current market’s site would be converted into a park.
The Lexington Market Inc. which oversees that facility, Thomas said, is still working out details of the $40 million redevelopment proposal. The corporation is reviewing details of the project. There’s not a timeline for redevelopment to begin, and officials have not been approached by a private developer about forming a partnership on the project.
“Scope is an issue, relocation is an issue and finding money is a perpetual issue,” Thomas said.
The projects closest to being overhauled are Hollins Market and Cross Street Market, the two projects involving private developers.
War Horse Cities, which has been involved in various projects in the city, such as Belvedere Square Market, has a term sheet with the Baltimore Public Market Corp. A final agreement is still being negotiated, but the current parameters of the deal include the Baltimore Public Markets Corp. retaining control of the building and the developer leasing the space for 15 years.
Redeveloping Hollins Market, said Jim Mills of War Horse Cities, is expected to cost between $5 million and $6 million. Current plans include significant changes to the shed portion of a building that dates back to 1877. Improvements could be complete, and the building fully occupied, Mills said, by next spring or summer.
The first phase of War Horse Cities’ plan for the market involves activating the parking lot for a variety of potential uses, such as concerts, movies or farmers market. The second phase would be the overhaul of the shed itself, which would create more natural light and better connect the interior with the parking lot by potentially opening up the north side of the building.
“We are going to significantly change the aesthetics of the market,” Mills said.
Cross Street Market
Caves Valley Partners hopes to finish its planned overhaul of the popular Cross Street Market in Federal Hill by the second quarter of 2019.
Cross Street is being redeveloped as a partnership between Caves Valley and the Baltimore Public Markets Corp. The developer is providing the majority of the capital for the roughly $7 million redevelopment. The agreement also provides for a 50 percent profit sharing after debt on the project is repaid.
But the project also serves as a cautionary tale about the complexities of creating a workable private-public partnership. Last year Caves Valley Partners walked away from the deal after a series of complications, including disputes with tenants about the timeline for construction.
Eventually, Caves Valley and the market corporation reached an agreement to proceed. But it required devising a construction schedule that takes longer to complete but allows most tenants to stay open.
Arsh Mirmiran, a partner at Caves Valley Partners, said his company took on the project with the view of providing a benefit for its other projects in the neighborhood, such as Stadium Square.
“We got into this because we wanted to create a great amenity in the middle of Federal Hill,” Mirmiran said.
The latest proposed market overhaul is for Broadway Market in Fells Point. The first renderings of the project were presented to the city’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation earlier this month to generally positive reviews.
A design for overhauling the two sheds that make up the market remains in its infancy. The market corporation decided to move on with the project itself in September after a previously issued request for proposals received one response.
Colin Tarbert, a Baltimore Public Markets Corp. board member, said the concept is to remodel the exterior and the interior of the north shed, which has been vacant for about nine years. After that project is complete, crews would begin working on the south shed.
The corporation wants to reskin the north building’s exterior and open up as many of the currently closed-off archways as possible to add exterior light. There’s also a faux wall that was added to the building’s front in 1979 that may be removed.
In the south shed there’s currently five stalls operating. Under the plan, those businesses would be relocated to the north shed following its renovations. The south shed is in the better shape of the two buildings, and interior upgrades would be done with the intention of finding a single tenant to occupy the space.
Broadway Market plans also involve finding more “pedestrian-friendly uses,” Tarbert said, for the parking lots at each building.
Despite all the activity, Baltimore still has other two city-owned markets without plans for upgrades. Both Avenue Market and Northeast Markets are also in need of improvements but there’s nothing in the works to upgrade those facilities.
The corporation has reviewed some possibilities for Avenue Market on Pennsylvania Avenue, Thomas said. Meanwhile Northeast Market, near Johns Hopkins Hospital, underwent a $1.6 million interior and exterior remodel in 2013-2014.
Correction: This article originally reported the last upgrades to Northeast Market were made in the 1980s. The facility underwent $1.5 million in improvements in 2013-2014. The article also stated the Public Markets Corp. runs Baltimore’s six public markets. Lexington Market is operated by Lexington Market Inc.