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Lexington Market Is Now Open, But Its Backers Admit Westside's Still A Work In Progress

As private and public sector leaders celebrated Tuesday's ceremonial opening of Baltimore's new $45M Lexington Market building, they acknowledged the surrounding Westside neighborhood still requires significant investment.

Seawall Development, merchants and government officials — including Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and Maryland Gov. Wes Moore — reveled in the long-gestating project's completion. At the same time, they said downtown's Westside needs additional government and private investment if the new market building is to achieve its potential.   

"This is a celebration of work still yet to happen," Moore said.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott speaks with Seawall Development Principal Thibault Manekin during the ceremonial opening of the new Lexington Market building.

Seawall Development principal Thibault Manekin, whose team has steered Lexington Market's redevelopment since 2018, said the new market building's opening is essential to the city and the region.

For the new Lexington Market to spark a Westside renaissance, he said, it needs support from across the area. 

"Look, I think it’s another significant tipping point, and I hope the rest of the projects that come online, come online in as inclusive a way as this has ... and I think we’ll see incredible progress as a result," Manekin said. "But I also think that as important as this is to the Westside, it’s also important to the entire region ... and this only works if everybody continues to show up."

The newly opened Lexington Market will now bring a host of fresh offerings to Baltimore residents, with more than 50 vendors slated to open across the lower market and upper market floors. 

Vendors currently open in the market include Garden Produce, Fleurs d'Ave florist and Krause's Lite Fare, and coming soon are Buffalo Bill's and the iconic Faidley's Market. The vendors planned to open at Lexington Market are roughly 50% Black-owned and 50% women-owned businesses. 

For more than a decade, Baltimore's elected and economic development officials have envisioned revamping Lexington Market, which has been the site of a public market dating back to 1782.

But the overhaul of Lexington Market, backers said, is about more than adding a new building to preserve a cherished urban institution.

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore prepares to ring the bell outside Lexington Market before its ceremonial opening on Tuesday.

They argue that erecting a new market building is as much about breathing new life into the surrounding Westside neighborhood as investing in Lexington Market.

"It's a ripple through the Westside," City Council President Nick Mosby said. 

The Westside is a section of downtown between West Fayette and West Saratoga streets, and spanning from Charles Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. That portion of the city, particularly the Howard Street corridor centered on Lexington Street, once served as Baltimore's premiere retail location. 

At the heart of the district was the famed Lexington Market, which served as the city's grocer of choice and a community gathering spot in various incarnations dating back to the colonial period. 

From the late 1800s through the 1960s, customers from the city and its suburbs flocked to the neighborhood to shop at grand old department stores like Hutzler's and Hochschild-Kohn. The Westside remained the region's go-to retail district through the 1960s, but it then began to fade.

As the white flight from the city accelerated, the department stores that called the Westside home either closed or followed affluent white residents to suburban locations.

During the ensuing years, the large buildings once occupied by department stores sat vacant and deteriorated into blight. The record and candy stores that once occupied storefront shops also left and were backfilled with liquor stores and tobacco shops.

Despite significant investment in the '90s — especially the construction of Oriole Park at Camden Yards at the neighborhood's south end and a light rail line through the heart of the district on Howard Street — the Westside never rebounded.

City efforts to entice new development on the Westside also ran into bad luck. The 2008 financial collapse scuttled a major planned redevelopment at Lexington and Howard streets called the Super Block.

After that, the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's quasi-public economic development agency, adopted a strategy of putting smaller parcels of city-owned land in the hands of developers.

Krause's Lite Fare has opened inside the new Lexington Market.

Over the years, especially since the Lexington Market redevelopment broke ground, the Westside has attracted new projects.

"We’ve already seen a lot of investment coming in because of the market project," Baltimore Development Corp. CEO Colin Tarbert said. "I think once we broke ground people realized it was real and it was happening."

Those projects include Caves Valley Partners' Metro West redevelopment. Maryland's spending board approved a 463K SF lease at that building late last year for the Department of Health.

Additionally, in February, Oakview Group is slated to complete a roughly $200M overhaul of Baltimore's Westside arena, now called CFG Bank Arena. Those updates include modernized acoustics, upgraded suites, contemporary seating, reimagined concourses, a new exterior façade and enhanced lighting. 

The city has also inked a development agreement with Westside Partners' to overhaul the former Super Block site.

Still, the scene on a rainy Tuesday in January just outside the new market building's doors shows how far off a renewed Westside is.

The exterior of the new Lexington Market building that opened on Tuesday.

The Lexington Market area in recent years has been known as a place to buy and sell drugs, and the historic market building was featured on an episode of the National Geographic Channel show Drugs Inc. that depicted Baltimore's heroin problem. 

While police from various agencies and security packed the market interior Tuesday morning, on the surrounding blocks, it was business as usual. 

Directly across Eutaw Street from Lexington Market, calls filled the air as apparent drug dealers hawked their products by chirping slang to passersby like "bars and bricks" and "twelves." One mosaic on the old market building was scrawled with a profane warning for residents to "stay out of people's work."

But city boosters like Baltimore Development Corp.'s Tarbert remained optimistic, especially since his organization only has two parcels of land left to sell to developers. He said they have sent requests for proposals for those properties and hope to announce those new projects later this year.   

"So to have this open, and to have all this energy, and new merchants, I think is a game-changer for the Westside of downtown. Especially coming on the heels of the arena [overhaul] ... and the major projects we have going on," Tarbert said. "I think you’re going to see a whole new vibrant scene and energy in this particular area."