At town hall, developers behind a new Lexington Market want the community to do all of the work

Photo by Brandon Soderberg

“Fentanyl patches, fentanyl patches,” Joe said, selling, walking a zig-zag pattern in front of Lexington Market yesterday afternoon a few hours before the Seawall Development-hosted “Transform Lexington Market Town Hall” which put the company radically redeveloping the embattled market before the public.

“I heard they’re tearing down the market and so on and so forth,” Joe said. “Then the yuppies can come in and all of that.”

Joe (probably not his real name, seeing as how the first name he gave me was “Perry Mason”), in his 50s, here his whole life, selling because he uses and using because he sells is pretty much right, that does seem to be the plan.

Seawall, the developers behind R. House, Remington Row, and Miller’s Court, will reimagine the market by demolishing the arcade of the East Market (where all the vendors currently are) and turn it into an outdoor area and also build a brand new South Market which will house less vendors than the East Market currently does and likely, newer, bougier ones.

“Me? I’ll, well, I’ll just go somewhere else,” Joe said and then went back to hawking his wares, bored with a reporter, a pocket full of patches to move.

That is probably how some of Lexington Market’s current vendors and shoppers and Seawall Development would prefer it: Out with guys selling drugs outside and in with, well, that isn’t entirely clear but vaguely, something “better” and newer, less deep-fried, “cleaner,” and all the rest.

See, everybody involved would rather tip-toe around this “transformation,” and claim, as town hall host Pickett Slater Harrington, the head of Seawall’s Community Engagement Team, told the crowd, that it is all up to the wonderful people sitting here on a Wednesday night in June—The Community.

“We’re working with the communities to co-create a vision,” Slater Harrington said. “Seawall is part of the community of Baltimore and we’re working hard to figure out ways that we could share your vision of Lexington Market and that’s the only way that we’re going to be successful.”

Right away, Slater Harrington addressed two concerns: the ongoing ability for SNAP benefits to be used at the market and concerns about equity and diversity.

“We’ll make sure that SNAP benefits remain at Lexington Market,” he said. “We’re also working really hard to figure out how do we increase the amount of diversity and inclusion in the market.”

Some light applause followed. SNAP benefits, a serious issue many assumed would be put off to the side and ignored, hd been acknowledged.

Slater Harrington knows the right things to say and how to say them, and you might, in a moment of unbound optimism, imagine that Seawall would drop something radical on everybody’s heads if the community demanded it.  If drugs are a problem at the market, they could get a safe consumption site in there, right? And if safety is such an issue, counselors could be present to help folks process trauma, no? The sense was the sky’s the limit if the community said it enough times (and wrote it on the sticky notes and stuck it on dry erase boards as requested at the beginning of the town hall). In reality, most of the decisions about the market have been made already and at the town hall, a bill of goods but woke was being sold.

Early on, Slater Harrington posted a Harriet Tubman quote on the screen behind him: “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember you have within you the strength, the patience, the passion to reach for the stars to change the world,” a whole-ass slide read.

Was the dream the new market? Is the community the dreamer? Or Seawall? Doesn’t matter of course, it sets the tone—social change, racial reckoning, and the rest, all of it a nice segue into a quick acknowledgement by Slater Harrington of the market’s role in the slave trade. 

By the way, a quick Google reveals that the Tubman quote on the slide is, according to Tubman scholar Kate Clifford Larson, not something Tubman ever actually said.

Photo by Brandon Soderberg

The platitudes continued and community members and vendors were handed a microphone by someone in a Remington Row t-shirt (where the cheapest rent is currently $1,228 a month) and took that mic to push back as Slater Harrington took it on the chin on behalf of Seawall.

“You tear down schools, you tear down community centers, you tear down the recreation centers…but you build more businesses. Businesses require people to spend money and in order for people to spend money that means they need more opportunities to make money, so with that being said, how many jobs will we actually allot to people with certain kinds of backgrounds?” Kevin Sherman, a carpenter said. “What are you going to do to actually help the community? I understand you all are gonna gentrify things.”

“I’m here to find out what Seawall’s plans are for the non-food merchant vendors,” said Nova Thomas, the owner of Sole Surviving, the t-shirt design stall at Lexington Market.

“It is what the community decides and comes up with,” Slater Harrington told Thomas. “That’s what we need input on.”

“What are you guys going to do to implement that?” Thomas said. “I don’t want to just leave that up to the community, I want to see that it’s in the plan, that I can come here and be able to get my check cashed or get a shirt made.”

“Thank you so much,” Slater Harrington said.

Nearby, Seawall Development’s Jon Constable stood, arms crossed, standing near the audience not exactly among them, nodding his head approvingly at Slater Harrington’s optimism and when someone who stepped up to the mic suggested something like say, involving Baltimore youth in the market or bringing live music in. His face got a little bit red and he’d shoot an “oh well” look at some other Seawall folks when comment turned too critical or got a little too real.

“When Seawall establishes a business in your community, they’re bringing people from outside the community to come in and raise the price of everything about it,” said Dylan Ubaldo, who used to work at R. House, and is a musician and chef who runs Calasag Pop-Up. “The businesses in the neighborhood that I’m around, they have to increase the price…they have to do so much just to survive.”

Krystal Mack, who formerly ran BLK//SUGAR, a stall at R. House, named Constable and Peter DiPrinzio of Seawall by name.

“These are people who will say they are about the community but they will implement things that are not to the community’s benefit,” Mack said. “How are you going to ensure that in this new development that people have been here and built and maintained this market when others have forgotten about it—the city in particular. How are you going to ensure that the people will still be cared for?” 

Then Mack told Slater Harrington the aside about the market and slavery was “awkward,” and did not give the topic, “the respect it deserves.” Slater Harrington maintained eye contact and nodded his head.

“It is easy to say the responsibility is on the people, but it is not fair to the vendors and it is not fair to the community,” Mack continued. “You guys have the money and the access and the political power.”

“I love that sentiment,” Slater Harrington said.

“Don’t love it,” Mack said. “Be actionable.”

“Thank you, thank you,” Slater Harrington said. “Responsibility!”

Photo by Brandon Soderberg