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As construction continues, Seawall tweaks Lexington Market plan

The developer leading the overhaul of Baltimore's historic Lexington Market says the project is on track for completion in early 2022.

The developer leading the overhaul of Baltimore’s historic Lexington Market says the project is on track for completion in early 2022.

Even as vertical construction on a new $40 million Lexington Market building is expected to begin shortly, builder Seawall Development continues to adapt to changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Seawall told city business leaders during a Greater Baltimore Committee Newsmaker event Thursday that the new building’s foundation is complete, which sets the stage for the company to start assembling the structure’s frame.

“It’s a big milestone, because we’re going to start coming out of the ground,” said Jon Constable, Seawall’s development manager.

In February 2020 the developer started demolishing the arcade portion of the existing market and clearing the parking lot next door to build the foundation for the new building on Eutaw Street.

Despite construction work starting only weeks before the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., Constable said, the new building is on pace to deliver in early 2022.

“The virus has not slowed us down from a construction standpoint. We’ve had a little more trouble with the rain,” he said.

Peter DiPrinzio, Seawall’s director of food and beverage, said that during the market’s 238-year history it has survived pandemics and fires. The new version of the market, he said, will also outlast the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a result of the disease’s outbreak, however, the hospitality sector has been hit hard. In a bid to help  tenants weather future outbreaks as well as deal with disruptors like online food ordering services,  Seawall is emphasizing outdoor plaza seating, carryout windows, and “a robust digital infrastructure.”

“We do realize the pandemic’s forcing business, especially food and beverage, to make changes,” DiPrinzio said.

Members of the development team also stressed the role of the new market in improving the surrounding community.

Downtown’s Westside once served as the Baltimore region’s premiere retail destination supported by several anchor department stores.

Thibault Manekin, who founded Seawall with his father, Donald Manekin, said his father told him stories about taking trips with his own father to the market via trolley.

“You literally didn’t start your weekend unless at some point you were at Lexington Market,” he said.

In the years after World War II, as the city’s more affluent white population decamped for the suburbs and the anchor department stores followed, the area struggled with disinvestment.

Over the years the market hemorrhaged tenants, and fewer customers shopped there because of concerns about safety. The number of vendors at Lexington Market plummeted from 153 merchants six years ago to roughly 50 retailers by early 2020.

Seawall hopes the new market is a catalyst in reversing that trend. Pickett Slater-Harrington, who heads Seawall’s community outreach efforts for the market, said the goal is for Lexington Market to serve as a community wealth generator.

“This will be the largest small business incubator that Baltimore has ever seen,” Slater-Harrington said.

In a bid to support small businesses who want to open in the new market building, Manekin said, the Baltimore Community Lending and University of Maryland Baltimore created a loan fund. That fund provides small businesses opening in the new market so-called last-mile capital.

During the presentation Manekin asked Greater Baltimore Committee members to consider supporting the fund.

“Inevitably there’s going to be a gap between $25,000 and $75,000 that these businesses are going to struggle to access,” Manekin said.