Friday, February 23, 2018

Move the Lexington Market to HarborPlace?

HarborPlace and Lexington Market have one thing in common: Sagging customer numbers and empty stalls, two factors which have caused agonizing by those who are responsible for operating the venues, possibly with a profit, certainly in a manner that covers cost. It isn't overly surprising, then, that one day somebody would propose to merge the tow places such as in taking the Lexington Market and put them into the ailing HarborPlace pavilions. This idea was floated in an op-ed piece in the Baltimore Business journal on Thursday of this week by Owen Rouse, Senior Vice President, Director, Capital Markets at Manekin.
The pavilions at Harborplace: Once "Festival Markets"
As the city ponders re-rendering Lexington Market’s existing space (at a substantial cost) and worries about food deserts, why not move the market to the authenticity-starved Harborplace and create a world class market? That would make it capable of achieving status that attracts locals, feeds tourists and enlivens bloggers to spread the word about another rebirth on Baltimore’s harbor. (Owen Rouse)
On first blush it seems to make sense to use those pavilions that already there, instead of building a brand-new facility south of  Lexington Street as the most recent Lexington proposal would have it.  Instead of trying to try luring tourists up Eutaw Street, catch them where they already are. HarborPlace was initially conceived by James Rouse and his company as a "Festival Marketplace", as many Baltimoreans recall, those pavilions had many characteristics of a market, including market stalls selling fish. Mr Owen Rouse list of other successful markets in the US omits Pikes Place in Seattle, a waterfront Market that draws tourists and locals alike.  What's not to like about this idea?Two birds with one stone etc. I can see many heads nodding.   Mr. Rouse point that incremental thinking doesn't always work  is certainly shared by many, given Baltimore's current condition.
There comes a time in many endeavors that incremental thinking will no longer work. I think many of us can see where this is particularly relevant in our city at this time. Let’s think bigger and reach higher. And start back where the renaissance began. (Owen Rouse)
On second thought, though, this blogger isn't "spreading the word about another rebirth on Baltimore's Inner Harbor". There are many reasons why this particular idea is a really bad one and I don't mean those which Mr. Owen Rouse suspects himself to be the counter arguments to his suggestion: historic preservation or small mindedness.
Lexington Market: What role plays race?

First, the idea makes little economic sense: The history of mergers shows that combining two ailing concepts rarely breeds success, since in economics, unlike in math, two negatives don't make a positive. Furthermore, Lexington Market is urgently needed as a cornerstone and anchor for the revitalization of the Westside which is still in need of a shot in the arm.

The other set of objections touches on Baltimore's most sensitive subject: Race, social justice and inequity. The suggestion of moving the market to the Inner Harbor is racially tone deaf, even if unintentionally.
Move the market to where it can be a central draw for all: The white collar lunch crowd, city residents, millennial apartment dwellers, visitors, family, friends and shoppers.(Owen Rouse)
The new downtown residents  as well as the white collar workers mentioned in the op-ed can easily go the Lexington Market if they were so inclined. However, the thousands of residents in the food deserts of West Baltimore (wich the op-ed doesn't mention) rely on the existing market as a source for fresh food with easy access. Metro, light rail and a bus hub all sit within a block of its main entrance. A market at Harborplace would be at least 4-5 blocks away from rail transit. Unfortunately the heavy use by less privileged people of color is also one of the obstacles that people cite as a reason for not visiting the market more often. It isn't hip enough.
A well known attraction at Lexington Market

This is not to say that the current pavilions or the current Lexington Market would not both have its set of problems for which to date no breakthrough ideas were generated.

Bringing some of the same market functions which Jim Rouse had originally installed back into the pavilions is a great idea. Food halls with food market type stalls  are popular across the nation and may well work here as well. Ashkenazi is currently fixing up the pavilions without municipal aid, one has to see how well it will work.

The prospects for the Lexington Market are less clear. The last version of ideas which Stephanie Rawlings Blake promoted in her last days as Mayor has found hardly any love among those who care about the market's future. In the words of the current Market CEO, "nobody likes it", it being the proposed generic glass box on the south parking lot next to the current arcade with all existing market structures being demolished. The new hall can't accommodate all merchants, it has terrible access from Eutaw Street, and the estimated $30-40m cost to build it is not covered, even though the State  provided $7.5 million in bond funds over a five-year period for the Lexington Market project. Just this week the City to set aside $250,000 towards further design of the concept, although there was some dispute for what the money really was designated.
Proposed new Lexington Market: Generic and access challenged

Most observers agree that for Baltimore has focused too much on its waterfront for investment and development. Waterfront locations have garnered pretty much all the attention and TIFs. In Baltimore's current condition a broader approach is urgently needed, one that improves services and facilities where they are needed and one that improves equity.

Lexington Market represents a perfect opportunity for demonstrating that a truly integrated diverse market doesn't have to mean  gentrification, displacement or even cutting off the service altogether. As for the $250,000 set aside this week, its time to ask stakeholders and users of the market how to spend those dollars. For Broadway Market the redesign started in a broad based community meeting without a pre-conceived notion. At Lexington Market public participation was limited and the expensive glass box was certainly not the result of what the community wants to see. Online questionnaires rather pointed towards fixing up the infrastructure of the current markets and maket and make it more presentable. $7.25 million could do a lot of incremental good in the old market, for sure.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

City approves $250K for planning of new Lexington Market


  1. They have two things in common, staggering crime in the city...oh wait three things, incompetent city leaders.

  2. Zero clue about the comically inept west side redevelopment efforts. As to Harborplace, the land is owned by the City, and it should consider ways to cite a breach of the land lease and seek a new master tenant/developer.