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Hunt Valley Towne Centre to get flagship family fun venue

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and Maryland residents Marc and Laura Rosen are teaming up to bring a 63,000-square-foot family entertainment venue to Hunt Valley Towne Centre in Hunt Valley, Md.

MVP Entertainment, which opens early next year, will feature an upscale-dining and express restaurant, a sports bar, two high-tech golf simulators, a coffee and gelato bar, a memorabilia/pro-shop, billiard tables, and 38 bowling lanes equipped flat screen televisions and state-of-the-art entertainment technology.  The facility will also have several private reception areas with their own bowling lanes and catering for corporate events or private parties of more than 2000 people.

"This concept is unique in that it offers so many different entertainment choices under one roof," says Laura Rosen. "Whether you're dining in our premier restaurant and bar, attending a private event in our VIP lounge, or just bowling with family or friends, MVP Entertainment will be exciting and high energy."

Brian Gibbons, CEO of Hunt Valley Towne Centre developer Greenberg Gibbons, notes that "with the range of dining and entertainment options, the facility offers something for everyone in the community. It will be great for senior citizen leagues, kids' parties, corporate outings, adult fun and much more."

Formerly the Hunt Valley Mall, Hunt Valley Towne Center was converted into a 980,000-square-foot lifestyle center boasting 260,000 square feet of space in an open air "Main Street" environment. The centre, which opened in 2005, features a 140,000-square-foot Wegmans and a collection of nearly fifty shops and sit-down and casual restaurants.

An invitation-only groundbreaking ceremony for MVP Entertainment, which plans to expand to cities "anchored" by professional sports franchises, will be held on Sept. 15.

Writer: Lucy Ament
Source: Greenberg Gibbons

Baltimore gets double shot of comics with Graphic Novelty

After waiting nearly a decade for a new source to feed their love of comic books and graphic novels, Baltimoreans are getting not one but two new options for their fix. We told you last week about the Sept. 2 opening of Alliance Comics in Federal Hill; now we'll fill you in on Graphic Novelty, which is slated to open a week later at 1712 Thames St. in Fells Point.

Co-owners Benjamin Greene and Heiko Spieker call their new labor of love Baltimore's "one-stop geek shop." The shop will offer "anything geeky," Spieker notes, including toys, card games and board games." While shoppers will find mostly new issue comic books and graphic novels at the store, Greene and Spieker will be selling portions of their personal collections and will also allow patrons to sell their own collections on a consignment basis.

Spieker said he and Greene, who owns the Waterfront Hotel and Miss Irene's in Fells Point, had tossed the idea of a comic store around for years. They decided to pounce when the 1712 location was vacated this summer by Fells Point Frame and Design (which moved to a larger location down the street).

"We both have a firm grasp on the realms of geekdom, but there are little subdivisions within our expertise," Spieker notes. "He knows more about Star Trek, while I know more about Star Wars, Angel, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But overall I'd say we're about equal."

Spieker says he and Greene designed the shop "to look like comic book in its own way," with yellow and red walls, custom-built black shelving units with plexiglass to allow maximum visibility, and a wrap-around glass counter will display special items. The duo have also set up a gaming room in the back of the store with wireless Internet for patrons to play games.

Interest in the story has already been high, Spieker says.

"We've been keeping the door open as we've been setting up here, and people pop in every day to say their glad we're here." In fact, impromptu visits from parents with their children have persuaded Spieker and Greene to carry kids' book, which wasn't in their original plan.

Spieker chalks up the opening of two comic book stores in Baltimore just one week apart to a case of "great minds thinking alike." He's anticipating the month of October, which will bring with it both the Fells Point Festival and Baltimore Comic-Con � and, hopefully, a lot of foot traffic.

Writer: Lucy Ament
Source: Heiko Spieker, Graphic Novelty

East Baltimore students back to school lesson? How to keep a promise

When the doors of the "temporary" East Baltimore Community School (EBCS) open for the first time on Aug. 31, students in the brand-new, brightly colored classrooms will learn about reading, arithmetic, and how to keep a promise.

That's because the school itself is a promise, one that East Baltimore Development Inc. made to the residents of its 80-acre site six years ago when it undertook the largest redevelopment project in Baltimore's history. At the time, some 70 percent of the homes in the EBDI site lay vacant and, without the requisite student- and tax-base, the local Elmer G. Henderson School was closed. Remarkably, EBDI promised those residents who remained in the area not only a new school, but a temporary one while the permanent school was being built.

That temporary pre-K through 8th grade school, EBCS, is now a reality. According to EBDI Communications Director Sheila Young, EBCS is a "contract" rather than a "charter" school, which allows EBDI to reserve 70 percent of its enrollment spots for kids from the immediate neighborhood as well as the children of former residents who have been relocated because of development activities (EBDI will also provide free transportation). The single-story, modular building, located at the corner of Wolf and East Chase Street between, is comprised of several trailers that have been brought in and bolted together.

"On the outside it's utilitarian, but we're doing things to make the area inside and around the school more welcoming and nurturing to the children," Young says.

The trailers came painted in colors chosen by Principal Cathleen Miles, and boast colorful murals, whiteboards, storage areas, wet sinks -- even little cubbies and "a tiny potty" for the kindergartners. Philadelphia-based, multinational food services giant ARAMARK sent 150 volunteers to create an outdoor classroom with a stage, benches, and podium, Young says.

The 19,300 square-foot, $1.6 million school, which EBDI undertook with partners such as Johns Hopkins University, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the City of Baltimore, will open this year to roughly 140 kindergartners, first-graders and fifth-graders. Two new grades will be incorporated each subsequent year with the addition of new trailers to accommodate them. The school will be operational for at least three or four years until the permanent school is completed, which Young says requires first the acquisition and demolition of homes in a four-block area bordered to the south by Ashland Avenue, the east by Patterson Park Drive the north by the Amtrak lines and the West by Chester Street. A design for the permanent school will be selected later this year.

Source: Sheila Young, EBDI
Writer: Lucy Ament

Famed Hollywood Diner making a comeback Downtown

Baltimore's Hollywood Diner, made famous as the setting of Barry Levinson's 1982 film "Diner," will get another chance to serve some grub.

Built in 1954, Levinson purchased the diner and moved it from its location in Long Island to Baltimore. The Chesapeake Center for Youth Development, a Baltimore-based nonprofit, ran the restaurant serving meatloaf and other traditional diner fare while providing real world experience for teens participating in its youth culinary training program from 1991 to June 2008.

The diner's new chance at fame comes from the Baltimore-based Crema Coffee Co. which will handle the daily operations and continue the youth culinary training program.

Located at 400 E. Saratoga Street, the new menu will include a selection of sandwiches, soups, burgers, salads and shakes made primarily with locally grown produce.
In addition to the food, the diner will also be the meeting place for University of Maryland School of Law students and their clients. The prospective lawyers will provide lowcost legal consultations to low income Baltimore City residents, focusing on a different area of the law each day of the week.

Writer: Walaika Haskins
Source: Creme Coffee, Co.

New dance studio in Pigtown thinks Baltimore can dance

Don't let "Dancing With The Stars" fool you: formal dance instruction is not just for B-List celebrities and retired professional athletes, and it's certainly better to do than experience from the padded passivity of your couch.

Expressions in Motion, a new dance studio opening in Pigtown later this month, is making it possible for aspiring dancers to learn some moves -- whether they are 3 or 93. Kids are taught creative movement and ballet and tap basics, while teens and adults can pick from a host of classes in jazz, ballet, modern, tap, hip hop, and contemporary dance.

Owner Martha Reyner, a Baltimore native who studied dance at Columbia College in Chicago before returning to the area to run a dance studio with her childhood mentor, says the studio will resemble a gym in that adults can pop into whatever daily classes they wish. Reyner has assembled a team of a half-dozen dance instructors to teach the classes, which will cost about $7-15 depending on the package members buy. They can pay for classes individually, purchase a full ten-week session, or choose a full 30-week year.

Best of all, students get several chances a year to show their stuff. Reyner plans to host several "Open Marley Nights" (a riff on "open-mic nights" that alludes to the special flooring on a dance floor) where students will be able to perform for one another and perhaps students from other studios. She also pans to organize two large, formal performances for her students, one in December and one in June, at a local performance hall or school.

The two-story studio Reyner chose at 756 Washington Blvd., formerly a furniture store, has three studio spaces, a parents' waiting room, and a kids' lounge. Reyner, who says the grand opening is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 29, chose the area because she was impressed at how readily Pigtown is realizing its potential.

"Baltimore is my home, and even after living in Chicago a long time I wanted to come back," she says. "I chose Pigtown because I feel like it's a visibly growing neighborhood and it's kind of fun to be a part of something that has a lot of positive energy. People want to make it beautiful and nice and safe and I want to help facilitate that."

Source: Martha Reyner, Expressions in Motion
Writer: Lucy Ament

$6M project to add five fields of dreams to Baltimore neighborhoods

Got a vacant lot of a certain size in your neighborhood? Then the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation may have designs on it. The organization, through its Swing for the Future project, plans to build multi-purpose, low maintenance Youth Development Parks in the city. The project, estimated at $6 million, will build state-of-the-art ballparks sporting artificial turf with a track and exercise stations, in five low-income neighborhoods throughout the city.

The first park will transform the unused property on the former Memorial Stadium site on 33rd Street. Foundation officials have joined with partners within the community to raise the $1.5 million needed to repurpose the vacant field. The Y of Central Maryland has teamed with the CRSF on the Stadium Place field. The Y will run the park which has been designed as a kid-scale replica of Memorial Stadium.

"The purpose is to give kids a safe and healthy place to interact and play. After we raise the mix of private and public funding, we will give the facility to a local community partner. We are using Baltimore as a model so we can take it to other cities and help kids all across country," says John Maroon, CRSF spokesman.

Early planning has already begun for a $1 million project in Park Heights near Pimlico Race Course. The partnership between CRSF, the Boys and Girls Club of Metropolitan Baltimore and the city's Department of Recreation will be completed in 2011.

Three other sites will be selected in East Baltimore, West Baltimore and one as-of-yet undecided location in the city. Community groups will operate the parks offering neighborhood kids the chance to play baseball, football and other sports as well as the CRSF's baseball-centric character development programs.

Depending on the organizations ability raise the needed funding for the parks, the goal is to open one park a year. So far, donations have raised roughly 50 percent of the $1.5 million needed to build and fund programming for the Stadium Place park.

Source: John Maroon, CRSF
Writer: Walaika Haskins

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