Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Broadway Markets - an unfulfilled promise

On the plywood boards covering the windows of the North Market naively painted icons depict all the things the shuttered market no longer offers: Fresh seafood, produce, crabcakes, bakery goods and poultry.

Sad looking North Market (Photos: Philipsen)
When the residents of Fells Point responded to a survey by the Market Advisory Group and Baltimore's Public Markets assembled their wish list for what they want to see in their market, they must have gone out to copy those items from the window panels. In a rare victory of public opinion over developer strategies, Baltimore City recently rejected a proposal from Klein Enterprises submitted in response to a Request for Proposals issued by the City in December of 2016.

The concept of the Klein project was revealed in June of this year and included a 400-seat indoor and outdoor restaurant and fish market at the South Market location and an amphitheater and park for the North Market building at Fleet Street and Broadway. The rejected proposal is the second time that a private developer had attempted revitalization. A previous proposal by a group called WorkShop had not been extended after two years of inaction.

The Klein project would have privatized the public land and buildings in the median of Broadway and made the uses part of the large- scale mixed-use development which Klein Enterprise completed  on both sides of Broadway. No actual public market functions would have been left. Opposition from the well organized community came in the guise of concerns about the impacts from such a large restaurant, noise, traffic and the general rowdyness that the community has come to expect after Fells Point became more and more party-central akin to Sixth Street in Austin.
Wishful plywood

At this point only the South Market is open, a building that really looks like a public market but is too small to succeed on its own. It has only five vendors who mostly sell prepared foods, including at Vickie's Deli, a popular breakfast joint. Robert Thomas, a trained architect and head of the Baltimore Public Markets non-profit told the BBJ:
"We are taking on the project ourselves. The city and the Markets Corp. is working to do the redevelopment and focus on figuring out what goes where and how the markets are populated. And we want to take care of the existing tenants."
Upon inquiry he added in an e-mail to me:
The Market’s management team is lining up scenarios that incorporate, to one extent or another, feedback that we have received. [...] Recurring key words are grocery, community, food, gathering space + a few others.  What the neighborhood wants will not be a rapidly implemented solution. 
North Market southside gunked up by junk
The question is why it appears to be so difficult to make the Broadway Markets the flagship of all Baltimore public markets. The two buildings sit in an immensely popular area that has a steady stream of visitors all day long, including evenings, many flushed into the area by the popular water taxi. There is also a rapidly growing residential base with new apartment and condo buildings springing up all the time. Last and not least, Fells Point has a very active, very well established community of old-time residents who have fought many battles to keep their community safe and attractive. Historic Fells Point is an architectural jewel; speaking of architecture, the south shed and its setting look exactly like everyone imagines a market, lined on both sides with historic small buildings, filled with retail, bars and restaurants, although in some sections the historic veneer is only razor thin thanks to Klein inserting large scale development.
South Market, an attractive shed: Parking on the side instead of stalls

The precedent that comes instantly to mind is Findley's Market in Cincinnati, a shed with a very similar architecture sitting also in the median of a wide street amidst historic buildings and a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.

Of course, there a few obvious problems with the current Baltimore set-up of those two sheds: They are isolated by parking pads, dumpsters, generators and busy Aliceanna Street. They don't allow continuous north-south passage through the center of the markets. Indeed, even the tiny south shed can't be entered on one end and exited the other, because the seafood vendor spans across the north end and blocks passage.  Unlike Findley's, the Broadway markets don't have any outdoor sales on the sides under roof overhangs or open up in any meaningful way. The Baltimore storefronts on both sides don't offer any functions which are complimentary to the market. In Cincinnati both sides of the street are lined with additional bakers, cafes, butchers and other retail establishments which act like an extension of the market. Cincinnati also restricted car traffic on the flanking roadways to service traffic in the morning giving pedestrians the opportunity to mill back and forth between the stores and the market.
Cincinnatti Findlay Market at Over the Rhine: Large roof overhangs

It is clear that the two markets cannot flourish without the various city departments coming together for a comprehensive approach. The City is just about to complete a rather unimaginative complete reconstruction of the plaza at the foot of Broadway which would have to become an important element in the revitalization of the median. A vibrant spine along Broadway's public center space would have to include a broad and secure crosswalk across Aliceanna (crossing the street in the center area today is unprotected and probably illegal).

Findlay Market: Open stalls on both sides
After all the years of foot dragging and stillborn proposals, the City's resolve to take the matter in its own hands is welcome, because it ensures that the community will keep public control of the space.

Now it takes some spark, some sound ideas and, above all, a concerted effort that includes the entirety of all public spaces wall to wall to support active and meaningful use. Needed also is a retail management entity that works on a synergistic merchandising concept with offerings throughout the day from daybreak on. Fells Point can ill afford to devote public facilities to the evening crowds only and really needs services that cater to the local community just as much as the visitors.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

My lecture about the future of Baltimore will take place as part of AIA's Architecture Month on October 18 at 6pm at the MICAH Lazarus Center on 131 West North Ave. My book "Baltimore, Reinventing an American Legacy City" will be available for purchase. 
The event is free but you need to register here

Findlay Market: Integrated on all sides


  1. Maybe it's because NIMBYs and self-appointed "neighborhood associations" shut down virtually every realistic proposal. They want quaint farmer's market and French bistros with NO additional parking or expansions. What investor would want to deal with them?

  2. "Realistic" is another way of saying 'let us apply the quick money, lazy thinking duplications of fast food formulas now seen on Pratt Street and any other major mall in the metro area. Sure they make money and work for the developer and investors. They don't do much for the community. Those are the (colorful) people who have lived in the neighborhood for centuries. They are the fabric of the city. How about trying a formula for investing that includes 'social responsibility to keep the historic fabric and flavor of Fells Point, Upper Fells Point, Butcher's Hill, Washington Hill'. Isn't that why you come here instead of the mall? Because of the variety of flavors in 300+ years of history? The Broadway Markets may not be the place to make 'for STUPID profit'.
    The Broadway Markets should be allowed to remain as one of the anchors the community. It should be a place that allows vendors, small businesses, artisans, bakers and artists to flourish. Small businesses should not have to pay $10,000 month rent for their booth. It could be incubator spaces for small people's businesses.

    All the surrounding neighborhoods that make the area 'attractive, historic, quaint and now gentrified. Yes, we self appointed neighbors make up our local associations. I was a later comer, having moved here in 1990 from another historic area known as Brooklyn, NY. You would do well to hold onto your quaint and bistro-ness, less Fells Point look like the Inner Harbor East or the soon to be NEW - 'forget was here before' Plankville site of Allied Chemical brownfield.