Belvedere Square has been through ups and downs since it was first developed in 1986, fluctuations that align with the economy, management and public tastes. Over the last year or so, the market has sprung into bloom. Atwaters, the soup and sandwich shop, extended its reach within the space, adding a dairy case, beer and wine, and an ice cream shop. Artisan food vendors have been sprouting along the back wall. One day, illuminated letters sprung from the roofline, uniting disparate food and retail beneath an art deco font.
Scott Plank, who had experimented with his interest in sustainable food by creating an employee restaurant at Under Armour (the company he helped launch with his brother Kevin), is deeply invested—with both cash and vision—in the market.
The Back Story.
“Who doesn’t love Belvedere Square?” Plank wants to know. “I’ve been going there since I moved to Baltimore in 2003.” Plank’s three kids, now ages 10-16, especially loved the Friday night Summer Sounds concerts, where they could run and play. Plank’s goal, he says, “is to make the market world class.” Investing in real estate is just part of the picture. The next step, he says, “is to engage the real estate to create community.”
Changes at Belvedere Square have moved incrementally. The management company, Cross Street Partners, began with the exterior, expanding sidewalks and adding the bright umbrellas—with heaters to stretch the outdoor season. “We took down all the signage,” from the front, Plank says, and installed clear, bold, neon letters. The goal was to create the excitement of a 1940s trip to the market. Mary Mashburn, of Typecast Press, chose a vintage font, Streamline Moderne, for the gaint letters.
Real Simple. Plank gets his hair cut at Blue Spark on Harford Road and used to plan his trips to Lauraville around lunch at Toulouloo, the diminutive Cajun café owned by Shawn Lagergren. Newly relocated to Belvedere Square, the menu remains simple, the dirty rice “unbelievable,” says Plank. “It’s very specific. Lagergren does really good fried stuff, like oysters and alligator bites, po’ boys, pizza and that’s that.” Such focus is part of what Plank is looking for in the Belvedere lineup—which also includes longtime tenants like Neopol smoked fish and Greg’s Bagels, as well as newcomers like Hex Ferments.
The market is designed to nurture small, homegrown food vendors, says Plank. “We wanted to make sure we’re a place where people make stuff—and customers can engage with the makers.” He points to chocolates made by Jinji Fraser, a former Under Armour employee. “I’ve known her for years. She was making chocolate in her condo,” Plank says. “We were able to help her with the rules and regulations of
becoming a food vendor.” The bootstrap story is familiar to Plank. “That’s what Under Armour was,” he says. “We founded that company in my grandmother’s basement.” The new Belvedere Square is an opportunity to give small makers exposure “on the big stage.” Even Spike Gjerde’s Shoo-Fly diner was established to manage all the canning and pickling for its fellow Woodberry group restaurants.
Belvedere Square is just the fluttering eyelids of Plank’s vision. He’s involved with developing a similar market in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, hoping to replicate the concept in even more cities. “Food and community are the nexus of everything,” he says.