Seawall Development to take over stalled overhaul of Lexington Market

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Photo by jpellgen (@1179_jp), via Flickr

The city has scrapped an old plan to redevelop the 236-year-old Lexington Market in favor of a new arrangement with building rehab specialists Seawall Development, which officials say would retain the market’s main building while saving as much $20 million in constructions costs.

Seawall, best known for its conversion projects in North Baltimore like Union Mill, nearby Union Collective and, perhaps most popularly, Remington’s R. House, has signed on as the developer for Lexington Market’s overhaul, Mayor Catherine Pugh announced at her weekly press briefing today. The project under Seawall’s vision will cost $30 to $40 million, the company estimates, down from $50 to $60 million under the old plan.

“We really believe that re-imagined real estate can unite cities,” said Seawall Development partner Thibault Manekin. “Of all of the projects we’ve ever had the opportunity to work on, this is the one that’s gonna prove that the most.”

The most recent (and now nixed) plan for Lexington Market, for which Whiting-Turner did pre-development work and Murphy & Dittenhafer served as the architect, entailed building a new multi-level glass structure on an adjacent parking lot and tearing down the existing East Market building, which houses about 60 merchants.

But Seawall’s vision would retain the building and repurpose it and add a new, smaller building on the market’s south parking lot. It would also open up the arcade building on W. Lexington Street as a pedestrian thoroughfare, “occasionally with a farmer’s market aspect to it,” said Kirby Fowler, chair of the Baltimore Public Markets Corporation and Lexington Market Inc., and chair of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore.

“It’d be very nice to look up that hill from Howard Street and see all straight through to the University of Maryland-Baltimore, and provide better connections to pedestrians,” he said.

The third step with the arcade would likely require demolition, said Stacey Pack, a project manager for the Baltimore Public Markets Corporation and Lexington Market, on a phone call.

The East Market Building’s future use is still being considered, Fowler said. “Perhaps it will be a few vendors who remain in there. Perhaps it will be new workforce development space or new community space, or new space for a brewpub or arts uses,” he said. “Who knows? But we felt it was very important. That structure has a lot of character to it, and it would cost us a lot to tear it down and put up a park in its place, so we might as well retain it.”

Adding a smaller building on the south parking lot will save money, he noted. The former plan involved excavating the lot to add basement-level space, which would have been more costly due to the space’s steep grade, Fowler said.

To help generate revenue for the $30 to $40 million project—$17 million of which has already been raised, officials said—the quasi-public Baltimore Development Corporation plans to issue a request for proposals to repurpose three city-owned pieces of land known as the West Market parcels. At present, they hold a four-story parking structure situated between W. Paca, E. Saratoga, Greene and W. Lexington streets, along with the smaller West Market building, which has about a dozen merchants, Pack said.

The RFP has a deadline of Jan. 3, 2019. It offers a leasing concept to bidders in which the city retains ownership of the land, but tenants could potentially share profits with the city. It also require that the winning bid agree to reserve some parking.

The city is also applying for federal assistance to fill the gap between the $17 million raised so far and the $30 to $40 million price tag, Pugh said.

The old work by Whiting-Turner and Murphy & Dittenhafer, as well as Maine-based Market Ventures, which solicited community and vendor feedback, isn’t all for naught. Seawall Development will still be able to use the former two companies’ work mapping utilities and necessary elevator shafts, as well as the information collected by Market Ventures.

“I wouldn’t say that we’re throwing it all out—in fact, a lot of it was very useful,” Fowler said of the old plans. But the rest is “basically a boxed concept,” one that will require community and vendor input.

Manekin said they’ll be doing “deep listening” with tenants and neighborhood residents, starting today, to learn what they want out of the redone market. “This project belongs to the entire city,” he assured.

Lexington Market Inc. executive director Robert Thomas estimated ground could be broken “toward the last quarter” of 2019. Construction would then take 21 to 26 months, he estimated.

The new plans for Lexington Market were unveiled one day after developers announced n early roster of vendors and a tentative timeline for the redeveloped Cross Street in Federal Hill. Fowler also noted the under-construction Broadway Market in Fells Point should be unveiled in 2019. (Additionally, Kevin Plank’s War Horse Cities is redeveloping Hollins Market at an estimated cost of $5 million, with $1 million coming from the city, though a funding gap has reportedly delayed the project.)

“We’re not giving up on any of the markets,” Fowler said. “We’re working aggressively to transform them. And this was not happening 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago.”

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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