The developers of the West downtown development project that would revitalize the “Superblock” said this week that they will preserve the exterior walls of Read’s Drug Store and several other historical structures.

The project garnered attention recently as preservationists and community members urged the city to halt development plans for project to save the drug store, which was the site of a civil rights sit-in orchestrated by Morgan State University students in 1955.

In a statement, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the building’s interior – which is deteriorating – has suffered from “decades of remodels” and “ultimately its abandonment.”

She added that the developers, Lexington Square Partners LLC, have agreed to keep the exterior walls intact and will release further details in coming weeks. “This is a big step toward a reasonable compromise on this issue,” Rawlings-Blake said in a written statement. “Honoring our history and building for our future should not be mutually exclusive goals.”

The $150 million development project was scheduled to bulldoze at least 17 edifices classified as historic in the blighted corridor. City officials said the partners will preserve 89 percent of buildings on Lexington Street and 76 percent of edifices on Howard Street.

John Hopkins, director for the Baltimore Heritage Inc., one of the preservation groups that fought to conserve Superblock’s historical buildings, said the redevelopment plan would still demolish several precious structures. “Read’s is certainly a signature building, but it is a part of a block of buildings with civil rights heritage,” he told the {AFRO}. “We would like to see additional buildings preserved to tell that story.”

Officials say the development will help restore the block, which was once a bustling retail destination and create employment opportunities. According to the Baltimore Development Corp., the project will generate upwards of 600 immediate construction jobs and 750 permanent jobs. It will also stream in $18 million in sales taxes and $2.3 million in real estate taxes a year.

“Without new housing and new retail, the Howard street corridor will suffer, with ramifications for the greater Downtown area,” Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, said in a prepared statement.
The site, which would be called the Lexington Square Project, will include 500,000 square feet of retail, residential, office and parking space.

Diane Bell-McKoy, president and CEO of Associated Black Charities, said the project could serve as employment “on-ramps” for the city’s unemployed residents, many of whom are Black. “The integration of celebrating and preserving the history along with using the footprint to serve as a job ‘pathway’ for African Americans will create a win-win for Baltimore,” she said.

Harold A. Dawson Jr., president of the Harold A. Dawson Co., one of a cluster of out-of-state development firms that make up the “Partners” in Lexington Square Partners, agreed. “Fighting for and supporting equality and opportunity for all people have been the basis of success for the company my father built,” the younger Dawson said in a statement.

In documents, the company has vowed to “create access to opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses” and provide worker and entrepreneurial training.

The predominately Black Dawson company has recently come to the forefront to represent Lexington Square Partners, a move some Baltimore insiders suspect was to dampen complaints that White executives were attempting to “destroy” civil rights history.

 

Shernay Williams

Special to the AFRO