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Issues of race and class worry critics of Lexington Market overhaul

The crowd Thursday evening at town hall meeting discussing a proposed $40 million overhaul of Lexington Market. (Adam Bednar/ The Daily Record)

The crowd Wednesday evening at town hall meeting to discuss a proposed $40 million overhaul of Lexington Market. (Adam Bednar/ The Daily Record)

(UPDATED, 12:20 p.m.) — Issues of class and race permeated the first town hall meeting to discuss a proposed redevelopment of Baltimore’s historic Lexington Market.

Several residents during the Wednesday night meeting at the market, which was intended to gather community input on the project, expressed anxiety about potential gentrification. Residents worried the project, which calls for demolishing the current market and constructing a new building, won’t be inviting to poor and African-American residents.

“It reminds me of the same stuff they told us about Harborplace,” a resident who identified himself as Rod Smith said during the meeting, referencing the financially struggling Inner Harbor mall. “This was always a place where black people of all economic backgrounds could mingle.”

Seawall Development held the first of what it plans as quarterly meetings about the $40 million project.

Krystal Mack, who once operated her Blk // Sugar bakery stall at Seawall’s R. House food hall in Remington, said developers are being disingenuous in their expressed desire to be inclusive of the community.

As a supposed example of the builder’s antipathy toward poor residents, she said eateries at R. House were prohibited from selling products for less than $3.

“These are people who say they are about the community but will implement things not to the benefit of vendors,” Mack said.

In a statement emailed on Thursday Seawall Development disputed Mack’s claims.

“Regarding that claim, this is not true — it has never been a policy of R. House at any point to limit price points, and there are many items sold currently that are under $3,” according to Seawall.

When Blk // Sugar closed at R. House, Mack told the Baltimore Sun in 2017 she felt disrespected and used like a “marketing tool for diversity.”

Seawall’s history starts with the renovation of the once-abandoned property at 2601 N. Howard St.

The firm, founded by Thibault Manekin and his father, Donald Manekin, turned the former H.F. Miller and Son Tin Box and Can Manufacturing Plant into the mixed-use Miller’s Court.

Miller’s Court provides apartments with reduced rents and amenities for city school teachers, nonprofit office space and Charmington’s, a worker-owned cooperative.

President Barack Obama’s administration recognized the project with a Champion of Change award in 2011. When the president pushed a family sick leave proposal in 2015 he visited Charmington’s.

Since completing Miller’s Court, Seawall has completed a series of projects ranging from renovating a block of homes to be sold to teachers to the ongoing Remington Row mixed-use development.

Seawall was selected by the city in October 2018 to steer a long-gestating redevelopment of the struggling Lexington Market.

It was Seawall’s R. House project that caught the city’s attention as a potential partner to lead the market’s redevelopment.

Seawall completed a $12 million overhaul of a former car showroom, turning it into an incubator for aspiring restaurateurs called R. House. It has become one of the most popular dining destinations in Baltimore since opening in late 2016.

Correction: The name of Krystal Mack’s defunct stand at R. House was Blk//Sugar. The stall’s name was spelled incorrectly in an earlier version of this article.

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