Supporters of redeveloping Baltimore’s Lexington Market remain hopeful construction of a new facility that may cost as much as $40 million will start next year.
Lexington Market Inc., the nonprofit operating the historic market, is still trying to reduce the price tag and secure funding nearly two years since plans were revealed. Efforts to overhaul the market stretch back to the hiring of Market Ventures Inc. in 2013 to conduct a study on how to best adapt the Baltimore landmark, which is viewed as key to reviving downtown’s Westside.
“The Board is continuing to review options to help reduce costs while we are working to secure grants and low-interest loans,” Kirby Fowler, board chairman of both Lexington Market Inc. and Baltimore Public Markets Corp., wrote in an email. “We would love to break ground on a new structure in 2019.”
Details regarding the project’s progress have been sparse in recent months outside of Baltimore’s spending board in February approving $250,000 for design and engineering work.
Earlier that month, Robert E. Thomas, executive director of Lexington Market and the Baltimore Public Markets, said there was no timeline to begin work on the overhaul nor had the organizations been approached about partnering with a private developer.
“Scope is an issue, relocation is an issue and finding money is a perpetual issue,” Thomas said at the time.
Thomas, in an email last month, declined further comment until an analysis by the project’s manager was presented to a board committee. He later declined a separate interview request, saying he was “unable to give a statement on any details at this time.”
Lexington Market was recently hammered by negative publicity after a recording of a rat scurrying around a case of baked goods spread on social media, which forced Lexington Market Inc. to briefly, and voluntarily, close the market.
Mayor Catherine Pugh, during her regular briefing with reporters at City Hall on Wednesday, said she’d not recently received updates on plans to redevelop the market.
“The Lexington Market is operated by the public board, and so, that is handled by the public market board. We support it, and will continue to work with them,” Pugh said.
Efforts to redevelop the project were started under Pugh’s predecessor, former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. She appointed Fowler, who is the president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, in 2014 to chair the boards of Lexington Market Inc. and the Baltimore Public Markets, which oversees the city’s five other markets.
In January 2015, Market Ventures recommended a complete overhaul of Lexington Market. The firm provided three options for moving forward with redevelopment. But the company recommended concentrating market activity in a rebuilt East Market building, keeping the market envelope and gutting the interior at a cost of $26.7 million.
Market Ventures also recommended reducing the number of vendors and changing the mix of market tenants to include 25 percent “staple foods;” 35 percent “specialty foods;” 25 percent fast-food; and 15 percent non-food vendors.
Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects were chosen about eight months later to provide architectural, engineering and specialty consulting services for the Transform Lexington Market Initiative. Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., in association with Mahogany Inc., was selected in December 2015 to provide construction management services.
Rawlings-Blake’s administration, about a year later, unveiled plans to redevelop the market, demolishing the current structure and building a new facility on a parking lot to the south. Lexington Market Inc. said the construction budget would be between $35 million and $40 million with work expected to take more than two years to complete.
Murphy & Dittenhafer’s renderings depicted a glass facade with the existing building site transformed into a park. The designs also showed Lexington Street, between Eutaw and Paca streets, turned into park space for hosting events, such as farmers markets.
A search for consultants to help fill area retail space started last March. Fowler, at the time, said $17 million had been committed to the project and that there was potential for to break ground at the start of the following year. Funding for the project is expected to come from sources, such as government grants, loans, and philanthropic donations.
“If all goes well in terms of fundraising, we believe we could break ground in the first quarter of 2018,” he said.
There’s been little news on the project’s progress since that time. Meanwhile, work started on the redevelopment of Cross Street Market, with Caves Valley Partners and Broadway Market.
Transforming Lexington Market, hurt by a reputation for being unsafe, is viewed as crucial to breathing new life into downtown’s Westside. The area, once anchored by department stores like Hecht’s, Hutzler’s and Hoschild’s, has steadily declined since retailers moved with the city’s population to the suburbs.
But there has been renewed interest from developers recently in the area, much of which is eligible for tax incentives as part of the Bromo Tower Arts and Entertainment District. The Baltimore Development Corp. has aggressively sought developers for blighted city-owned property. Those efforts lured private investment via projects, such as Proverni Sheikh Group’s mixed-use Howard Row.