Once a hub for travel to and from Charm City, Baltimore’s former Greyhound bus station sits in the shadow of a slow-moving light rail and collects dust. But potential is bouncing off the walls.

“Where our lobby is going to be used to be a restaurant,” Abby Markoe said as she offered a tour of her youth group’s future headquarters to a Baltimore Banner reporter. In another year or so, downtown will trade in blighted bus bays for squeaky new squash courts.

No, not the gourd. Like, the sport with the small, squishy ball.

SquashWise, a youth development organization co-founded by Markoe that supports Baltimore City Public Schools students in the classroom and on the court, completed its purchase of the building in 2021. Thanks to donations, a recent Maryland historic tax award and additional grants, her team is moving forward on construction designs and hopes to break ground this year.

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The project will transform the 24,000-square-foot station into six squash courts that Markoe hopes will host tournament play, dedicated workspace for students to receive academic coaching, and room to expand.

The center should nearly double the number of students that SquashWise can accommodate in its academic and athletic coaching program, Markoe said. Surrounded by new apartment developments, SquashWise is just one piece of a larger plan to flip the downtown Howard Street corridor from blight to might.

A woman in a grey sweatshirt stands in an empty, office-looking building looking out a window to the right.
Abby Markoe, co-founder of youth development organization SquashWise, looks out of a second story window at her organization’s new Howard Street headquarters. SquashWise is converting Baltimore’s old Greyhound bus station into a six-court squash arena. (Daniel Zawodny / The Baltimore Banner)

The project is the latest use for the steel-and-concrete building at Howard and Centre streets, which, according to a 1991 Baltimore Sun article, was designed by architect William Arrasmith and opened in 1941. The art moderne-style bus station served as a hub for bus passengers for decades, closing in 1987 when Greyhound relocated to East Baltimore, The Sun reported. It was renovated and reopened in 1991, serving as a home for government and arts agencies before being acquired by the Maryland Historical Society in the late ’90s.

Baltimore isn’t alone in finding a new use for a former bus terminal. Savannah, Georgia, exchanged diesel fuel for dinner menus at The Grey, a hip restaurant that occupies a converted Greyhound station. And Memphis, Tennessee’s old terminal is making the switch to mixed-use apartments and retail. Some worry that intercity bus travel is becoming a relic of the past, but Markoe hopes SquashWise can be a hub for a new kind of journey.

“Sports are places where a lot of social change can happen,” said Markoe, who envisions the space as a place that “brings together the two Baltimores.” It’s partially the answer to the most common question she gets — why squash? Beyond just loving the individual-yet-team sport that she thinks can help kids develop social-emotional skills, Markoe knows there’s an accessibility issue. Squash, a racket-and-ball sport typically played by two people on a four-wall, indoor court, has historically been played by the white, wealthy and powerful.

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“There are plenty of ways for people to connect across racial or economic or geographic lines in Baltimore when there isn’t balance. You go to a charity fundraiser; you can donate to something; you can receive services from something,” Markoe said.

Her goal is for SquashWise to be a place that brings balance, with players from different backgrounds stepping onto the six new courts on equal footing.

“Come as you are” community play nights and sliding-scale memberships available to Baltimore’s squash community — in much higher demand since Meadow Mill, its previous hub, shut down — will help bring more people (and revenue) in the door. But the heart of the initiative remains the youth program.

Two adults stand between a white squash court and a group of middle school students who are sitting on the ground watching them and holding squash rackets.
SquashWise coaches work with middle schoolers at practice last month at the organization’s current Sisson Street facility. (Daniel Zawodny / The Baltimore Banner)

“We truly are like a big family. Even, like, seniors will help the juniors, who will help the middle schoolers. I feel like everybody is connected in some way,” said Jaylen Harris, a participant in the youth program.

Marisa Coleman, another participant, added, “SquashWise is very inclusive; we accept everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re good or if you just started. There’s coaches here that will help you out. There’s players here that will help you out. Nobody’s going to judge you.”

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That acceptance even crosses the lines of heated Baltimore rivalries. Though one attends Baltimore City College and the other goes to Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, Harris and Coleman are SquashWise friends first. Although they compete on the court from time to time, they also help each other with math and Spanish homework.

Two teenagers run and swing rackets on a squash court.
Marisa Coleman and Jaylen Harris compete in a friendly match at SquashWise’s current Remington headquarters. (Daniel Zawodny / The Baltimore Banner)

The two visit SquashWise’s current home in Remington every day after school, working with academic coaches between visits to the court. Currently, the program has just two courts, meaning scheduling practice time for everyone is yeoman’s work.

The new headquarters will bring more space, which in turn will mean more practice time for competition players like Coleman. She’s been playing only for a couple of years, but Markoe said Coleman’s game is already turning heads. SquashWise fields varsity and junior varsity teams that compete with area schools and travel for regional tournaments.

Though the old Greyhound station is slated for a makeover, Markoe plans to maintain some of its historic elements ― such as the massive Greyhound sign, which will be displayed somewhere inside.

A Banner reporter served up an obvious suggestion for a new varsity and JV team name — the Greyhounds.

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Markoe laughed. Would that be stepping on Loyola University’s toes? She thought the kids would want to go another direction, anyway.

She squashed the idea.

Daniel Zawodny covers transportation for the The Baltimore Banner as a corps member with Report For America. He is a Baltimore area native and graduated with his master's degree in journalism from American University in 2021. He is bilingual in English and Spanish and previously covered immigration issues.

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