City wants $20 million upgrade at Lexington Market

Devine says he has watched as Lexington Market has changed with the city's history. As Baltimore began to lose population in the 1950s, many of the market's customers fled for the suburbs — or what Devine calls, half-jokingly, "Camelot." He doesn't see them returning any time soon.

"The people from Camelot are not going to drive down here," he says. "I was once sitting in William Donald [Schaefer]'s office when he pounded the desk and said, 'They're not coming back!'"

Genko says the city would not approve plans that would detract from the market's historic nature.

"No one wants to go into any market and totally transform it to something that has no historic significance," he says. "I think the best plans will be plans that maintain the market feel, integrity and history and still maintain the kind of changes we need to make it attractive to new customers."

The city has spent millions of dollars in the past decade to renovate its public markets, but the plan for Lexington is the biggest in recent memory.

Since 2001, the corporation has pumped $12 million into improvements at Lexington Market, including new roofs and air conditioning systems, while performing smaller makeovers at its other markets.

The Cross Street Market was renovated several years ago and given new floors, doors and lighting for $500,000, Genko said. About $2 million was dedicated to the Avenue Market; about $1.7 million for the Northeast Market; $800,000 for the Broadway Market in Fells Point; and about $800,000 for the Hollins Market.

"Most of the markets date back to the 1950s," Genko says. "We've modernized them, but we've still kept the charm. All of the markets need to be constantly revitalized. It doesn't need to take away from the history of a public market to do that."

Rawlings-Blake agrees.

"The only way Lexington Market can surpass where it has been is if we respect its history," she says. "The reason why the public markets in Philly or Boston are popular isn't because they're cookie-cutter of anything you can find anywhere else. It's because they maintain a historic character.

"Lexington Market has good bones. It's just figuring out a way to get back to those and do it in a way that gives us an opportunity to bring in a more diverse offering."