In early February, Thibault Manekin, sporting a mop of dirty blond hair, wearing a beaded shark tooth’s necklace and blue T-shirt, sits in a crowded family room in Brazil, trying to secure some semblance of privacy for this Zoom. Manekin, 43, and his wife, Lola, along with their young sons, Finley and Durban, have spent nearly the past year in his wife’s home country. When they had children, he promised Lola that they would spend a year there, so the kids could know her family and that part of their cultural heritage. It just happened to coincide with the coronavirus pandemic.
Every so often, the conversation is interrupted by the sounds of his boys, arguing in the other room. He then quietly and politely asks in Portuguese for a little help controlling the ruckus.
Not that the trip looks as if it has been hard on Manekin. Trading in the Baltimore winter for a Brazilian summer amid COVID-19 certainly has agreed with him. He’s chatty, relaxed, and appears infinitely more comfortable than when his typical days as a principal at one of the region’s most innovative real estate development firms, Seawall Development, thrust him into the limelight.
Despite the roughly 13-hour flight away, Manekin’s hometown of Baltimore is never fully out of mind. That’s due in large part to his company tackling its highest-profile project to date, leading the $40-million redevelopment of Baltimore’s hallowed Lexington Market. “Everybody in Baltimore has a Lexington Market story, and everybody in Baltimore has a reason they do, or don’t, go there today, but they all have an opinion about why it’s important that Lexington get back to the place that it really once was for our city,” Manekin says.
It’s a daunting task, but one that Seawall Development, the firm that Manekin cofounded with his father, Donald, in 2007, has handled well so far.
Founded in 1792, Lexington Market served as a hub of Baltimore life for generations. It was the place to grab fresh fruits, vegetables, and specialty items like raccoon or muskrat. It was the place to stop for lunch after weekend day trips to one of the department stores in what’s now downtown Baltimore’s Westside.
First, Seawall forged plans for an affordable development after the initial cost swelled beyond what the city was willing to pay. Their proposal for a new market shed harkens back to what Lexington Market looked like in 1910—a modern take on the turn-of-the-last-century structure. Renderings depict barn-like architecture, flooded with natural light and constructed with materials such as brick and metal to reflect the surrounding neighborhood’s industrial-age aesthetics. Construction continues despite having broken ground in early 2020, shortly before the pandemic, and they’re still on track to open in early 2022.
As is his tendency, at least publicly, Manekin downplays the difficulty of the project. While he admits “the last year was really scary,” he is also adamant that he approaches challenges with an open mind, setting the company, and its projects, up for whatever the post-pandemic world holds.
“We’re on fire now, you know, there are projects that we can’t wait to talk about,” he says. “I really think that we are just beginning to hit our stride.”
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