Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Building Asia Town

There is one part of the old Charles North Master Plan that has intrigued me but I've never had an angle on which to write about it. In fact, I still don't know whether or not I have one but I'm going for it anyway. That part is the proposed "Asia Town" I can see why planners want to do it, but I don't know how they can do it. How do you force only certain types of Businesses to build there? Better yet, how do you force only people of Asian decent to live there? The answer to both those questions is, you can't. But I'm going to explore building Asia Town Anyway.
Baltimore has many ethnic enclaves within its borders so with a burgeoning Asian (mostly of Chinese and Korean ancestry) population, it makes sense that a planner would want to centralize it with Residences and Businesses from that population. So why Charles North? More specifically, why the four blocks surrounding Charles St. and 20th St.? The answer is, that's in close proximity to much of the City's current and expanding Asian population. The biggest concentrations are in Bolton Hill, Mount Vernon and Charles Village housing Students and Faculty of nearby Johns Hopkins University and MICA.
The blocks surrounding Charles St. and 20th St. have lots of vacant land and many of the existing buildings are vacant as well. There appears to be land banking going on here and the status of it is unknown. Could this be for Asia Town? Could it be smaller projects on a building by building lot by lot scale? Do the Land Bankers have a plan at all? Is it the same company owning this land? These are questions nobody seems to know the answer to. In fact, that very question is being asked on a billboard located not far from the Asia Town Site.
As far as what to do with the blocks of Asia Town Site, I prefer actually building it as Asia Town. Why? Because it has the potential to be unique to the City. As I look at new and proposed development around the City, I see that much of it is the same high rise glass Apartments and four story garage town homes. When building Asia Town, developers and architects alike can be encouraged to think outside and use influences in both modern and ancient Asian architecture.
As I had asked earlier in the post, how do force people of Asian decent to move to and open businesses in this area. As I had said earlier, you simply can't. But there is a way to authenticate the development by selecting local development, architectural, and real estate firms owned by people of Asian Decent. That may help bring additional Asian run businesses and services to the area as well as Residents. Although Asia Town can never be a "sure thing" on paper, without Building Asia Town, there's no point in trying.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Upper Howard St. The Next Development Magnet

First off, I want to make clear the exact area I'm referring to when I say "Upper Howard St." I'm referring to the blocks between North Avenue and 26th St. The upper blocks of the area won't be discussed since that's the old Anderson Automotive Site which had been slated to be an Upper Big Box Center known as 25th St. Station complete with a Wal-Mart. Since that project is dead and the future of the sight is in limbo and its use is unknown, I won't discuss it in this post.
The area surrounding Upper Howard St. is in the midst of a development boom. It's located in between Mount Vernon, Reservoir Hill, Bolton Hill, MICA, Remington, Station North, Charles North, and Charles Village. Also nearby are John's Hopkins University, Hampden, and Woodberry. This area is among the most up & coming in only behind Downtown, the Inner Harbor, and the Southeast. Given the proximity Upper Howard St. has to all these areas, you'd think it would have the hottest pieces of Real Estate in the City right?
Wrong! It appears that this area is still in the olden times where cities tried to emulate the suburbs by widening roads and building nothing but auto oriented businesses. It makes sense as Howard St. was a major thoroughfare through Downtown into northern neighborhoods and into the suburbs. It also provides easy access to and from the JFX especially northbound considering the de-centralization of Downtown to the south in the latter half of the 20th Century.   
So today Upper Howard St. is a hodgepodge of auto-oriented uses and a suburban style shopping center. The road itself is a rather wide boulevard thoroughfare which encourages high speeds that can cause lots of accidents. In the area surrounding Upper Howard St., especially west of it, there are shuttered industrial remains and even further to the west are some tidy row homes that were most likely meant for the workers of these industries.
It seems that these few blocks of Howard St. have been surpassed by developers and need a master plan to jump start redevelopment efforts. I would like this area to be more Neighborhood oriented rather than a mere thoroughfare as it appears to be now. First, I would lower the speed limit, add bike lanes, new mast arm traffic signals, repave and re-stripe the road, and re-cement the sidewalks. Then, I would rezone the area from Commercial/Industrial to a more attractive Residential with Neighborhood Retail type of zoning. I would move the current auto oriented businesses on Howard St. and move them to E. 25th St.
Once the old businesses have been cleared away, I would redevelop Howard St. with town homes featuring basement Retail. Behind Howard St. along 23rd and 24th St. I would build three Apartment Buildings similar to the new Stadium Square Development under construction in South Baltimore. This development, although similar in appearance to Stadium Square would be primarily Residential. The existing industrial buildings sprinkled throughout this area would be rehabbed as lofts. I would also redevelop the decidedly suburban Midtown Market Place and the surface lot behind it with a mixed use development similar to Locust Point's McHenry Row.
Although Upper Howard St. is located in the middle of a development boom in between Bolton Hill, Reservoir Hill, MICA, UMB, Johns Hopkins University, Remington, Charles Village, Station North, and Charles North, it hasn't seen the level of investment that its Neighbors has. By re-zoning it to a use more conducive to its surroundings, I believe Upper Howard St. will be the next development magnet. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Amazon Headquarters: Come On In!

Some of today's biggest news around major cities and municipalities along the east coast has been Amazon's search for a site for its new east coast headquarters. It seems that everybody wants to be where Amazon chooses. And why not? The City Amazon chooses will gain tens of thousands of jobs, residents, and an expanded tax base. This will be especially beneficial to "rust belt" cities that have suffered population losses, have high unemployment rates, and struggle to maintain a tax base. This criteria fits Baltimore to a tee. So lets say Amazon decides that Baltimore is the home for its new headquarters, where the City find 8 million square feet of office space required?
Despite Baltimore making headlines for its stubbornly high murder rate and civil unrest, the City is in the midst of a building boom. Old vacant buildings are being returned to productive use and the once industrial waterfront continues to be redeveloped as high end mixed use. As I had mentioned before, Amazon will be requiring approximately 8 million square feet of office space for its new headquarters. This will equal a large chunk of Downtown. Given the aged infrastructure Downtown which is a whole other can of worms all together, I wouldn't use Downtown for Amazon. I would bet that they would want to build their headquarters from the ground up.
Fortunately for all parties involved, there are some vacant sites that if put together and rezoned slightly, could be amassed together for Amazon. These sites are Port Covington and Westport. Port Covington has been named the next frontier for redevelopment in Baltimore with Under Armour using it to expand from its Locust Point headquarters which are bursting at the seams. Under Armour owner Kevin Plank and its real estate arm Sagamor Development have envisioned Port Covington as a mixed use haven with millions of square feet of office, retail, residences, hotel rooms, and green space.
I would argue that with the all of the new residential development going on Downtown and around the Inner Harbor, I would think building even more residences at Port Covington might be a bit of overkill. In addition, a lot of existing Downtown office space has been converted to Apartments. Although I do like this idea, I believe that Downtown should continue to be the Central Business District and should continue to attract office space as well as residences. This is why I propose dedicating all of the proposed office space in Port Covington not aligned with Under Armour, be dedicated to Amazon. In addition, I propose using the proposed residential space in Port Covington also be dedicated to Amazon. With Amazon taking up so much space in Port Covington, the demand for residential and office space in other parts of the City will go up. The proposed Hotel Rooms will remain in place since Amazon will generate lots of Business Travel.
As large as Port Covington is, it simply won't be large enough to contain the Amazon headquarters on its own. That is why I'm proposing nearby Westport as the second part of the Amazon headquarters site. Westport had been a promising redevelopment site in the mid 2000s as developer Patrick Turner dubbed the site "Inner Harbor West" but as the economy crashed, so too did the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) that the City had promised to get the development going. Also since development had slowed to a grinding halt nation wide, Patrick Turner had to sit on his Westport land. He couldn't afford to do that and the entire Westport site went into foreclosure.
As a result, the Westport site has remained vacant and has had little to no interest from developers. Kevin Plank has expressed some interest in passing once Port Covington is complete. Of course given the phased roll out of Port Covington that could take decades. So that leaves Westport as a blank canvas. One thing Patrick Turner had managed to do was get the zoning in Westport changed from industrial to mixed use. Patrick Turner's plan for Westport was not unlike Kevin Plank's plan for Port Covington in that it would be waterfront mixed use. Obviously with Amazon needing as much land as it can get, I would give them as much of the Westport site as they desire. I would also leave lots of space available for Hotels since as I had said before, there will be lots of Business Travelers going to and from the Amazon Headquarters.
Now, the fact that Baltimore has the available land for the Amazon Headquarters, that doesn't mean that they will just move on in. One way they will weigh their options is by how much Cities and States can do for them. This would mean (TIF) for infrastructure, other tax breaks, housing for employees, traffic improvements to make the influx of employees and residents easier. One thing that had interested Amazon in Baltimore was a proposed high speed rail line to DC that Under Armour was planning.
If I were Amazon, I would ask the State to provide funds for planning that line and demand they invest billions more over 20 years into building local rail transit lines including reviving the Red Line, expanding the Subway, localizing MARC Stops, building the Yellow Line, and a Light Rail Spur to Port Covington. Under Armour has wanted the additional Port Covington Light Rail Stop(s) but with pressure for Amazon, it justify more funding and quicker. Since Amazon is a 21st Century company, it would be more impressed with building rail lines instead of building more roads.
Amazon has sparked much discussion with its proposed east coast headquarters and every city and state wants in. The fact that they're considering Baltimore is a great honor and although it might be a tough sell and many improvements to the City will be needed, I will still like to invite Amazon to Come On In! 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Charles North to Reservoir Hill Footpaths

As the area around Charles St. and North Avenue continues to experience massive development and redevelopment, it should be kept in mind that even as these areas grow in population, there's one thing that they're lacking in; walkability. Walkability is great within the Neighborhoods themselves however, when walking or biking to surrounding Neighborhoods, it becomes less so.
This is a problem especially when considering this area is a growing College-town where many Residents don't have access to a car to get to and from School. The problem becomes exacerbated when more and more students are moving to Reservoir Hill and MICA continues to expand from Bolton Hill and into Station North. Right now the big elephant in the room for this post is the JFX. Sure there's the sidewalk on North Avenue on the bridge over the JFX but for walkers and bikers who not only live north of this but work and/or go to school north of this, it becomes a hassle and the walkability of the area goes down.
So how do we fix this? More roads? Do we tunnel this section of the JFX? As much as I'd like to do just that, I don't think it's a fiscally sound solution at this moment when considering other ways the Billions it would cost could be better used around the City and County. Building more roads over the JFX between Charles North and Reservoir would also be detrimental the rapidly growing Neighborhoods because the traffic snarls of North Avenue would be expanded to these currently residential streets. 
So now what? I didn't provide a solution as to how we can fix this. I just gave "solutions" that wouldn't work or are way too expensive. Well, my solution that is feasible will be plenty expensive don't you worry, but its price will pale in comparison to tunneling a stretch of a major interstate. My solution is simply foot paths. During the interstate era, when the JFX was built, City planning centered around one word; redlining. Redlining chopped up existing to keep poverty and integration at bay. Of course back then integration would eventually lead to re-segregation by another race. That's why bridging Neighborhoods together was such a no no.
Today, as City living makes a come back and integration is less of a four letter word, the now chopped up Neighborhoods that were made so by the construction of the JFX are looking to reunite to their pre-JFX selves. When looking north to Hampden and Woodberry, the walkability between these two communities and the development in them both has increased drastically. The sidewalks on Union Avenue under the JFX and on 41st St. over it have played a big part in this now sought after community.
Granted in Hampden-Woodberry, the "foot paths" are nothing more than sidewalks attached to existing streets that cross the JFX. How does that help Charles North and Reservoir Hill given that no streets cross the JFX between North Avenue and 28th St.? That's why my plan is for foot paths instead of sidewalks. Sidewalks are only for existing vehicular roadways while footpaths can go anywhere regardless of whether motor vehicles can or cannot. So foot paths it is but where? And how many?
The answers to those questions respectively is two and between 21st St. and Reservoir St. and between 24th St. and Whitelock St. are the locations. I chose those two because they're both not too close and not too far from one another. At the northern end of Reservoir Hill, there's a connection to Remington via Sidewalks along Druid Park Lake Drive over the JFX where it becomes 28th and 29th St. for east and west bound traffic respectively.
As part of the continued growth of Reservoir Hill, I think that Druid Park Lake Drive should undergo streetscape enhancements. There are lots of vacant lots here that can be developed as additional Condos and Apartments overlooking Druid Hill Park. Streetscape enhancements should include new sidewalks on both sides of the street, pedestrian signals, bike lanes, road resurfacing, and new LED street lights. A Long term project should be a redesign of the interchange between the JFX and Druid Park Lake Drive which I consider to be unfriendly to pedestrians and bikers.

When Neighborhoods in Cities begin to make a turn around, connecting similar Neighborhoods that are also turning around makes the turn around that much faster and more profound. This can be easily obtained by connecting Reservoir Hill and Charles North across the JFX via footpaths. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Mondawmin Crossing II: The Neighborhood

Although I believe that Mondawmin Mall is a good site for Baltimore's next mega successive ultra regional mixed use Big Box Center, I don't believe the surrounding Neighborhood is quite ready for it. Although the area struggles with crime, drugs, vacant housing, and poverty, I would like to use the revamped Mondawmin Mall/Mondawmin Crossing as a way to jump start reinvestment and redevelopment in the area. There are also numerous assets nearby that are overlooked and can be used to enhance the Neighborhood.
When I was tossing around ideas for this post, I was looking at ways to connect Mondawmin to Neighborhoods east of the JFX. I thought about extending and/or relocating either Liberty Heights Avenue or Gwynns Falls Parkway so that they meet and blend into Druid Park Lake Drive which in turn connects to the JFX and becomes 28th/29th St. east of it. This would have connected to Mondawmin to Remington, Station North, Hampden, and Charles Village. When delving further into this concept however, I realized that the only to effectively do this is to either demolish a large chunk of Row Homes in the Parkview/Woodbrook Neighborhood or run it through Druid Hill Park.
Although redevelopment of dilapidated row homes near Mondawmin may be needed, Parkview/Woodbrook shouldn't be the place to do it. Neither is running roadways through Druid Hill Park. There aren't nearly as many vacants as there are in other Neighborhoods. In addition, the row homes there have great architecture. Although they need to be completely rehabbed and restored in most cases, they will rival those found in Bolton Hill, Reservoir Hill, and Charles Village. This would be a great place to offer $1 Row Home incentives in order to bring massive reinvestment dollars to this diamond in the rough.
There's one big asset to the Mondawmin area that I don't believe acts as such. I'm referring to Hanlon Park. Hanlon Park is home to Lake Ashburton which gives gorgeous views of the City as well as a running track along the lake. There are other amenities in this park but they fall flat when compared to more modernized parks. First, in order to properly expand the park and the amenities it offers, Dukeland St. will now have to end at Gwynns Falls Parkway. This will make a seamless transition between what is now known as Hanlon Park and the campuses for Gwynns Falls Elementary and William H. Lemmel Middle School.
Both of these School programs can be consolidated to other under-utilized buildings in the Neighborhood to help balance out the enrollment capacity-ratios. Gwynns Falls Elementary can be split between Hilton Elementary and Robert W. Coleman Elementary. Robert W. Coleman Elementary has been making headlines by offering yoga to Students and having it suspension rate plummet as a result. The Magnet School(s) using the William H. Lemmel campus can be moved to the Old Walbrook High Campus which now plays host to several other Magnet Programs.
By closing off Dukeland St. and the two School Campuses, we can now renovate and expand Hanlon Park. The new park will include new Baseball Diamonds, Tennis Courts, Basketball Courts, Volleyball Courts, a full length Football field, Soccer field, and an Olympic sized swimming pool. This expanded park will provide direct access to the Mondawmin Crossing and will make Hanlon Park a Community Magnet as reinvestment in the housing stock continues.
Although Mondawmin Mall has the potential to be Baltimore's next Canton Crossing, it's important to look at the surrounding neighborhoods to see if they too create the same welcoming environment that the Retail Center promises to and that it too is a safe Neighborhood with a healthy housing stock not only to keep the Retail Center viable, but to encourage shoppers from other Neighborhoods to visit too.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

New Posts Coming Soon

Sorry for the lack of output, I have been on vacation and have otherwise been very busy in both my paying job and my social life. That being said, I haven't forgotten about all you loyal readers and I do have ideas that are brewing in my head for future posts. In fact, the second part of the Mondawmin Crossing series might not be next because other material is at the forefront of my brain. Stay Tuned!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Mondawmin Crossing I: The Mall

One of Baltimore's greatest successes in recent history has been Canton Crossing. No development before or since has been able to bring suburban style big box stores and integrate them into an urban setting in Baltimore. Since the site that Canton Crossing sits on was vacant industrial land, it didn't have to break up an urban grid to make way for the large footprint stores and/or the surface parking lot. Canton Crossing is also located in an area of the City where growth is at an all time high. New Residences and businesses are being built at break neck speed and it is quickly becoming a showcase area for the City.
Baltimore is not a small City. It has about 620,000 Residents. Logically, it can support at least one more big box type Retail Center similar to Canton Crossing. Indeed, a location for a big box Center was sought out in North Baltimore. It was in another high growth area where Station North, Remington, Charles Village, and Johns Hopkins University come together. It was to be called 25th St. Station because the Development was to be centered around 25th St. That plan fell apart for several reasons not the least of which was the fact that the site was in the middle of tightly packed urban grid.
Another site has to be sought out for Baltimore's next Big Box Center.
Luckily, I have a found a new location that will be perfect for Baltimore's next Big Box Center; Mondawmin Mall. Although when the words Mondawmin Mall are mentioned, it's easy to think of the starting point of the civil unrest that started in April 2015. In the aftermath of these riots many promises were made by various people to invest all around West Baltimore to improve the quality of life in this long neglected part of the City. Well, here we are more than two years later and nothing has changed. I would however like to start with redeveloping Mondawmin Mall as a Mixed Use TOD Big Box/Lifestyle Center that will begin reinvestment and redevelopment in surrounding Neighborhoods.
Although Mondawmin Mall had undergone a $60 Million Renovation, most of that went to the addition of Anchor tenants including Target, Shoppers, and Marshalls. The Mall had interior and exterior facade enhancements but its major renovation was decades ago which turned the vacant Sears (the Mall's first and only Anchor until 2008) into additional mall space. Today, indoor shopping malls not unlike Mondawmin are dying a slow painful death as bricks and mortar Retail is facing its reality that it has an excessive of space nationwide. In order for Malls to survive, it needs to be a large regional Mall that attracts from more than just the Neighborhood or in the case of Mondawmin, it needs to be redeveloped.
When I say redeveloped, I mean that the interior Mall needs to be redeveloped. The exterior Traget, Marshalls, and Shoppers needn't be changed. For Mondawmin, I have always envisioned Liberty Heights Avenue to be the front entrance to the Mall and Gwynns Falls Parkway the back. I would put both a Dick's Sporting Goods and a 14 Screen Movie Theater behind the Target and Shoppers with smaller shops between Target and Shoppers leading into the Movie Theater and the Dick's Sporting Goods. This portion of the parking lot has an underground parking garage which will be expanded and will be expected to house more of the cars for the Center. The Anchors in the front and Anchors in the back concept with smaller shops connecting them is reminiscent to the new Hunt Valley Town Centre.
The loop that circles around Mondawmin Mall will be reconfigured between the Target and the now vacant former MVA building so that a Forever 21 may be built on the other side of the Target. The vacant MVA building will be demolished to make way for a mixed use building that will house two Junior Anchors; Petco and AC Moore Crafts with 5-6 stories of Apartments on the upper floors wrapped around a parking garage. At the front of the Mall on Liberty Heights Avenue, a TGI Fridays opened on a pad site.
There are two to three more undeveloped pad sites along Liberty Heights that I would have developed into additional fast casual Restaurant Concepts. An additional pad site to house Bank of America which is currently in the Mall will be built on the far side of the Target Parking Lot. Since this redevelopment is TOD, I would redevelop/reconfigure the transit station at Liberty Heights Avenue and Reisterstown Road with the station under neath, Neighborhood Retail on the ground floor and 5-6 stories of Apartments above wrapped around a parking garage.
The redeveloped Mondawmin Mall or Mondawmin Crossing as I'd rename it, won't be an actual clone of Canton Crossing. It will be less upscale, more dense, and will lack Office Buildings that a future phase of Canton Crossing will have, Mondawmin Crossing will serve the purpose of giving Baltimore a second successful Big Box Retail Center that not only won't compete with Canton Crossing, but will complement it.