New Details on Cross Street Market Design Presented, Community Members Gather to Support Existing Tenants

| January 11, 2017 | 2 Comments

A packed crowd – which SouthBMore.com estimates as more than 200 people including Cross Street Market business owners and employees, area business owners, and residents – filled the Sharp-Leadenhall Baptist Church on Monday night for the Cross Street Market Advisory Committee meeting for updates and discussion on the redevelopment of the Cross Street Market. The market will be redeveloped by Caves Valley Partners (CVP), which will lease the building from Baltimore City’s Baltimore Public Market Corporation (BPMC). At the meeting, CVP provided renderings for and updates on the new design and layout for market, and discussed new and existing tenants and liquor license issues at the market. The project is expected to begin construction in May and take approximately 10 months to complete.

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The market design will have what Arsh Mirmiran of CVP described as two “end caps.” The Light Street side of the market will include a 2,090 sq. ft. breakfast-focused place which Mirmiran said he hopes is current tenant Steve’s Lunch, as well as a 1,220 sq. ft. coffee shop. When asked if that coffee shop could be a Starbucks, Mirmiran said only if it was homage to the original location at Pikes Place Market in Seattle, which has a different look and logo. He noted that if Starbucks is a tenant, it would be the only national chain at the market.

The S. Charles St. side will have a 7,840 sq. ft. seafood restaurant, as well as an adjacent fresh seafood stand. Mirmiran said these businesses need to be in partnership or have the same ownership. Mirmiran wants to see a focus on fresh fish, as well as crabs and oysters.

Nick’s Inner Harbor Seafood currently operates a large seafood and sushi restaurant and bar on this side of the market, but on January 1st CVP terminated the lease which had six to seven years left on it according to Nick’s Attorney Gary Maslan. Nick’s has been ordered to vacate on January 31st. Mimiran said this was due to health code violations.

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“They don’t care about the rest of the merchants at the market. The way Nick’s has operated the last eight years is not a tenant we want,” said Mirmiran.

In a formal letter to CVP, the Baltimore City Health Department stated that Nick’s had “at least 2 Critical Violations and 137 Good Retail Practice Violations.”

“These are just routine inspection reports,” said Maslan at the meeting. “They’ve never been cited with citations. They are minor violations that occur in any food service facility. Nick’s has almost $1 million invested into this business. We won’t settle this in litigation, we’ll be in court.”

Nick’s Co-Owner of nine years Jae “Sunshine” Lee spoke at the end of the meeting. “These are little violations, and this is a really big place. We’ve never been shut down or fined,” he said. “We pay $10,000 a month in rent and the landlord (BPMC) is supposed to hire pest control, but they haven’t. We hired our own weekly pest control. We tried the best we could.”

Discussion on the topic between the parties involved at the meeting was a bit limited as it was described now as a “legal matter.” Nick’s also owns a seven-day, 1 am beer/wine license which CVP hopes to purchase according to Mirmiran.

Nick’s Co-Owner Kwang Lee told SouthBMore.com that they are fighting to stay at the market and not looking at any alternatives at this point. He showed SouthBMore.com the description for Good Retail Practice violations on an inspection report and noted that “every time the Health Department comes in, they find something” and that “it’s an education process.” Other vendors and restaurants owners that have spoken with SouthBMore.com have confirmed this.

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Lee pointed out that every aspect of Nick’s kitchen is open for every customer to see as they prepare and serve food and that it is clean.

“I’m ready to negotiate, we just need the chance,” said Lee.

Many in attendance at the meeting were there in support of Nick’s including bartenders, employees, the family of employees, and patrons of the business. Nick’s has 21 employees and 70 family members who rely on the income according to Lee.

Lifelong South Baltimore resident Linda Hopkins described in the public comment period how her visually-impaired son has worked at Nick’s since he was 17 and how she worries about him taking buses for work elsewhere in the city. She said the loss of income will be hard for the family and might lead to them leaving the area.

Kevin O’Keeffe of Otterbein said he’s been to many political fundraisers and charity events at Nick’s and said, “I hope we don’t forget this is a neighborhood bar. We like Bud Light and Coors Light from a bartender that knows your name.”

Mirmiran mentioned earlier in the meeting he wanted to see less Bud Light, Coors Light, and Miller Lite and more craft beers at the market.

Many testimonies were heard supporting Nick’s, calling them not only a business, but a part of the community. The topic brought up a lot of emotion from some in the room. When Mirmiran said Nick’s doesn’t drive business to other tenants in the market, a loud “they do” was shouted by many in the crowd.

During the design portion of the meeting, Mirmiran presented updated plans. At Patapsco St. and Marshall St. there will be large glass windows and doors on each side as well as an interior walkway so pedestrians on those streets can see through the market to the other side of the street. In between Patapsco and Marshall St. is a horseshoe-shaped design with a walkway on the southside of Cross St. and vendors and “back of the house” spaces and bathrooms against the north side of Cross St. This area will have the type vendors that would make up a replacement for a grocery store such as cheese and dairy, butchers, produce, baked goods, and more. Mirmiran called the area the “mini market within the market.”

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Closer to Light St. and S. Charles St. will be smaller restaurant-type vendors. Stalls will vary from 200 sq. ft. to 500 sq. ft., and vendors will be able to put in seating and counters at their businesses. There will be seven common seating areas along the south side of the building, as well as spaces for pop-up seasonal vendors. They are hoping to remove six to eight parking spaces on the south side of the market for outdoor seating that would have covering, landscaping, and heat lamps.

The lost parking spots could be replaced by additional parking a block south. The Parking Authority of Baltimore City (PABC) has been studying the demand for building an additional deck on the West Street Garage, which was part of the garage’s original design according to Councilman Eric Costello. He provided the following update in a statement last month: “Early indications are that the revitalization of the Cross Street Market will lead to the addition of a fourth floor. This study is ongoing and PABC does not currently have a timeframe for when it will be completed. In the meantime, there is a placeholder in the fiscal year 2019 (beginning July 2018) budget for the additional deck and preliminary discussions suggest that the additional level could be completed sometime around the delivery date of the “new” market.”

Costello estimated the additional deck would add about 90 parking spots.

The trash compactor will remain on the north side of the market, but CVP hopes to better cover and protect it with a new design. A mesh fencing structure will cover the rooftop utility units. There are no rooftop decks in the plan. Mirmiran said getting the building up to code will take $2.5 million of utility work. The City, which still owns the building, is putting up $2 million of this cost and CVP is putting approximately $4.5 million into the renovation.

The exterior also includes new windows, planters, signage, and a grey exterior. CVP is meeting with the Baltimore City Planning Department this week and the project design will likely go through the Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel (UDARP).

Some cheers were heard at the end of the design presentation.

Proposed market layout from CVP (click to enlarge) 

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Mirmiran said there would be no chain businesses outside of the possible Starbucks, and that most stalls would be first time businesses. He noted there may be some businesses that also have locations in cities like Washington, DC or Philadelphia.

There are currently 17 vendors at the market, all of which outside of Nick’s are represented during the process and in lease negotiations by attorney John C. Murphy and are on month-to-month leases. Mirmiran said that all of the tenants are invited back, outside of Nick’s; Wireless One, Inc., which sells cell phone accessories; and Cross 10 Grocery, which focuses on lottery tickets and other groceries. Mirmiran called the last two “a bad fit.”

Nick Alevrogiannis of Cana Development, CVP’s leasing team which also worked on Mount Vernon Marketplace, was hoping to present letters of intent yesterday to the existing tenants before learning of their new representation with Murphy. He said they will now work with Murphy.

Mirmiran said rents will go up, but will be in line with Mount Vernon Marketplace, Belvedere Market, and R. House. He described Cross Street Market as a much better location than the others. He said rent will be 10% of revenue projections, and Alevrogiannis will work with tenants on mapping out those numbers.

CVP was hoping to keep portions of the market open during construction, but described this process as a “mess” and “more harmful than helpful.”

Alevrogiannis said this in a December 21st letter to the current tenants:

“Regardless of whether or not we are able to reach agreement for you to be part of the redeveloped market, we will work with you and the Baltimore Public Markets Corporation to provide options for temporary and/or permanent relocation spaces.  These spaces would be in either Lexington Market or Hollins Market, both of which are going to be refreshed, as well.  The Markets Corp. has confirmed that there is adequate space to accommodate all current tenants of Cross Street Market, should you so choose.  If neither of those options is of interest, I can work directly with you to find you space closer to Cross Street, either in currently vacant storefronts or in existing spaces that may become available.”

Many business owners in attendance described the other markets as unacceptable, and Murphy noted each business’ value is in its customers who won’t necessarily follow them to another area.

Murphy is also working with the merchants in asking for support from the City while the market is closed. He was given the floor at the meeting. “They need support, they need the law behind them. There has been no assurance, no investigation towards the merchants on how they survive this process. How many of you could take a nap for 10 months? How many customers will follow you to the next market?”

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He noted the expenses of their equipment and relocating it, and said he has asked the City and BPMC for moving and relocation expenses to no response.

Murphy said Mirmiran has been responsive and courteous to his concerns. Murphy received a big applause when he finished speaking.

Mirmiran said last month he hopes to have approximately eight vendors selling alcohol, but does not want a “bar-like” atmosphere at the market. Two alcohol-based vendors he had in mind were a “Beers of the Chesapeake” tasting room as well as a wine tasting room. They are hoping to get a market-wide liquor license for the project and CVP, the committee, and surrounding neighborhoods are working with Delegate Luke Clippinger on this request. The license would need to be created through the Maryland General Assembly. Mirmiran said failure to get this license would be a “deal breaker” for the project.

All the members of the committee were generally supportive of the idea after discussing with the boards of their organizations, but many said membership meetings have not yet been held. All said they wanted the license to stay with the market and not be transferable to another property. Along with Nick’s, Big Jim’s Deli also has a seven-day beer/wine license, and CVP has said they would like to buy these licenses and sell them to other businesses in the neighborhood.

CVP’s attorney Joe Woolman said the licenses would be more suitable for a restaurant than a bar because they don’t allow for the sale of liquor. Mirmiran told SouthBMore.com this could help lure an upscale restaurant to come to Federal Hill.

Bob Merbler of Federal Hill Neighborhood Association expressed concern with those licenses ending up back in the neighborhood. There is currently a moratorium on licenses in the Federal Hill Business District where there are currently 40. Anna Leventis of the Federal Hill Business Association said her organization has not taken a stance on the new license but wants to support the market vendors and Nick’s and Big Jim’s liquor licenses. Several expressed the need for an MOU to prevent “a large bar atmosphere.” Craig Stoner of Federal Hill Main Street said they are generally supportive but don’t think the market should get the 41st license in the area, and that they should utilize or eliminate one of the existing ones. Paul Dolaway of the Federal Hill Hospitality Association said his organization doesn’t want to see liquor as part of the license, just beer and wine.

During the public comment period, several members of the audience expressed a desire not to see a new license created. Many expressed their support for the current vendors and their concern about being shut down for 10 months. Several also expressed their concern about keeping the market “very Baltimore,” and not modeling after places in Seattle, New York City, or Northern Virginia.

Bill Dewall, who owns The Flower Shop at the Cross Street Market, voiced his frustration about how the vendors were kept in limbo by the City for two years, not knowing what would come next. The Request for Proposals (RFP) was first released in January 2015.

The committee will meet again next month and negotiations will continue between current merchants, new merchants, and Caves Valley Partners.

Rendering courtesy of CVP and Brown Craig Turner 

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About the Author:

Creator of SouthBmore.com and resident of SoBo. Graduate of Towson University and owner of Incept Multimedia, a full service video production company. Diehard Ravens and O's fan, beach volleyball enthusiast, dog lover and "bar food" foodie. Email me at Kevin@InceptMM.com and follow me on Twitter at @SoBoKevin.
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  • d

    Cannot possible be worse than what is there now. People so afraid of change.

  • Dennis Trencher

    Let the current stall owners have first preference. Nick’s, Jimmy’s as well as the flower stall give it a real neighborhood flavor