West Side Story
~A ringside look at the changing face of Baltimore~
By Gregory M. Derwart
If you keep up at all with
Maryland’s economic development initiatives, you know that Baltimore’s
West Side is in the middle of what has been dubbed the City’s second
renaissance. And the MSBA’s headquarters building is right in the middle
of all the activity.
Flanked by the University
of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), and Lexington Market, the Maryland Bar
Center (520 West Fayette Street) houses the MSBA (www.msba.org),
MICPEL (www.micpel.edu), CLREP (www.clrep.org)
and PBRC (www.probonomd.org).
Originally known as Male Grammar School #1 or the Poe School, the historic
building was rebuilt in 1880 after a fired burned the original structure
erected in 1837. Rumor has it that George Herman Ruth (Jack Dunn’s Babe)
came to school here – that is, if he ever showed up for classes before his
father shipped him across town to St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys.
The Maryland Bar Center is maintained by the Westminster Preservation
Trust, which also runs Westminster Hall across the street (final resting
place of Edgar Allan Poe and many local heroes from the Revolutionary War
and the War of 1812).
Now as we sprint into the
21st century, we are welcoming many new friends – and even some old ones –
back into the neighborhood. First came the return of the Hippodrome back
in February. Part of the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center (www.france-merrickpac.com),
this original vaudeville house has been historically renovated to its
original 1914 splendor. More importantly, its state-of-the-art modernity
now allows for Broadway shows such as The Producers, Mamma Mia!,
Hairspray and The Lion King to run for months at a time.
Across the street from the
Hippodrome is downtown’s newest residential community. Centerpoint (www.centerpointbaltimore.com)
is the signature project of the West Side, and it takes up an entire city
block. It will include two-story lofts in renovated historic buildings, as
well as new apartments in a 17-story tower. Restaurants, coffee shops and
other retail stores will be at street level – welcome additions to
show-goers looking for dinner before or drinks after an evening at the
Back at the Bar Center,
things have been popping up literally in our backyard. For the past 18
months, UMB has been in the process of building the University Suites at
Fayette Square (www.fayettesquare.com).
The 16-story tower behind us and the adjoining historically renovated
buildings along Fayette Street will accommodate over 300 students from the
school’s professional programs. Students are expected to move in any day
now in preparation for fall classes.
Other items of note include
improvements to the area in and around Lexington Market (www.lexingtonmarket.com):
development of a “Super Block” - bounded by Clay Street and West Lexington
Street to the north, West Fayette Street to the south, North Liberty
Street to the east and North Howard Street to the west - which will most
likely include mixed-use structures to accommodate retail, residential and
office space. Also, new construction continues to pop up through UMB,
including the UM Medical Center and UMB’s new dental school – not to
mention its long-term project of creating a bio-technology park (www.umbbiopark.com)
to complement a similar initiative by Johns Hopkins on Baltimore’s East
As the MSBA and Maryland
Bar Center continue to see changes and improvements to their neighborhood,
it’s nice to know that many of our mom-and-pop stores are still around as
well. Many folks still get lunch from the Korean grocery store across the
street, and Mt. Olympus in Lexington Market is a favorite stop for many of
us on staff. And who could argue with freshly-baked Berger Cookies as an
afternoon pick-me-up or crabs from Faidley’s? Real Italians (including the
chefs across town in Little Italy) still know to get their supplies at
Trinacria’s on North Paca Street. The bank reps that handle our corporate
accounts are still across the street, and the tranquil cemetery at
Westminster Hall isn’t going anywhere.
And herein lay the real
goal of true “smart growth” – incorporating current and future needs
successfully with existing and previously-used structures and treasures.
We should be pleased that the MSBA is a part of this renaissance.