Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Light Conway and Charles: Make way for Transit!

I wasn't very clear on the vehicle types that would be used on my new Red Line, most importantly my proposed surface alignment on Pratt St. (my last post) it would include the latest advanced Light Rail vehicle that does not require over head lines powering the train. When I talk about any type of new Light Rail lines just assume this is the train model I'm proposing. For the existing Light Rail, I would like to see it upgraded to this model of train to make it less invasive when it's at surface level. Past Pratt St. the Blue Line will go underground using existing CSX tunnels which will be vacated.
Downtown, I wish I could have more surface transit but it's time to face facts. With the Yellow Line branching off of the Blue Line it will make several sharp turns. First it runs down Conway St. then to Light St./St. Paul St. where it meets the Green Line in a stop that's already setup for a second stop.
Then up Calvert St. to Penn Station. I wanted to make this surface level from Howard St. to the Light and Pratt intersection but it will have to be tunneled for the sake of vehicular traffic.
Except for the Red Line on Pratt St. there's no room for surface transit. The Charles St. Trolley Line running from Pratt St. to University Parkway in Charles Village. Charles St. from Pratt St. to University Parkway is plenty wide enough for surface transit. In fact, it could stand to be narrowed down to two lanes the entire distance. The Trolley Line will be in the middle of the street and one lane of through traffic on either side. Turn lanes will be installed for turning vehicles. The line should reduce traffic between the Inner Harbor and Charles Village. I had originally planned for the Charles St. Trolley to go south of the Harbor but it's too narrow. The only way to make it happen would be to take away on street parking and or make it a one way street in Federal Hill. Charles St. in Federal Hill is a Main Street and the Trolley Line would take away from businesses there vs. Charles Center, Mount Vernon, and Station North where it would add vitality.That being said, the roads Downtown, with or without additional rail transit are too wide. I had planned on narrowing certain streets and intersections to make way for the Yellow Line, which I had thought would be at street level. With the Yellow Line in tunnels I decided to narrow those streets anyway to allow for an efficient flow of traffic. The first street to be narrowed besides Pratt and Charles would be Light St. Southbound, It will lose one lane of through traffic and one right turn lane onto Conway St.
Northbound, it won't veer off to the right creating a second Pratt St. intersection. Northbound Light St. will have one right turn lane onto Pratt St. The rest will continue to Calvert St. This now useless oversized "turn lane" will be the location for the Red Line's surface level Inner Harbor Stop. One block to the west tunneled will be the Yellow Line's Inner Harbor Stop.McKeldin Park would be expanded seeing as its surrounding streets will be narrowed. The median of Light St. will be widened and redesigned to make the McKeldin Park into a Preston Gardens type of Park between north and southbound Light St. up to the Key Highway Split which does NOT need a roundabout.
In order for these streets to be narrowed there needs to be another southbound street that leads to I-95 from Baltimore's Downtown and Central neighborhoods. That street is Howard St. Howard St. turns into I-395, the nation's shortest interstate and dumps Downtown traffic onto I-95. What most motorists do is take St. Paul/Light St. to Conway St. to I-395/Howard St. for this. Howard St. died two deaths, the first when it was turned into a Pedestrian Mall (thank you late '60s early '70s urban renewal) and the second when the Light Rail was rammed down it. Reopening the Pedestrian Mall to vehicular traffic wasn't enough to revive it. It lost too many lanes of traffic to the Light Rail, even more so when double tracking was put in. A lot of Howard St. Downtown because of the Light Rail is one way Northbound.
With the Light Rail tracks tunneled in the soon to be vacated CSX tunnel Howard St. can experience a rebirth as a two way street for its entire length with on street parking to pump new life into new retail that will result. Most importantly, Howard St. will be a vital link to I-95 for southbound travellers relieving congested streets like St. Paul/Light St., Conway St., and Lombard St. I will not discuss Lombard St. because it's worthy of its own post. Well Light, Charles, and Conway Sts. have made way for transit and a much smoother and efficient vechicular traffic, remember wider isn't always better.

Well guess what? This is my 100th post! I've enjoyed writing, researching, and photographing every last one. Here's to another 100! If you've enjoyed reading a fraction of much as I have writing this blog you've made me a happy man.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Pratt St. Redevelopment

Pratt St., Baltimore's Showcase, the street with longest uninterrupted view of the Inner Harbor. It represents all the progress Baltimore has made in turning itself from a Rust Belt City to a World Class Tourist Attraction. If anyone visits the Inner Harbor or close to any Downtown Attraction, even Johns Hopkins Hospital they will know the name Pratt St. and it will remain etched in their brain as the Inner Harbor's Main St.
So why Redevelop it? Well all it does is shuttle thousands upon thousands of vehicles through the perils of Downtown traffic and although most of its buildings are brand new the road itself can and will be reexamined. The City is vying for two way traffic but I'm not and neither are the vast majority of city and traffic planners with half a brain disagree but Sheila Dixon chose a two way traffic option.
Right before the opening of Harbor Place the City shifted the direction of Pratt and Lombard. Pratt ran westbound while Lombard ran eastbound. The City made the right choice in reversing the two directions. But did they make the right decision in creating such wide Urban Boulevards? Yes and No The widening itself was a bad choice but it leaves lots of room for improvement.

The buildings along Pratt St. are, for the most part mid rise mixed use built within the last 30 years. They were purposefully made a lower rise so that the high rises of Charles Center can also rake advantage of Inner Harbor views. That was a good choice.
Now here's a bad one; Sidewalks that are as wide as the five lane road itself. Pratt St. has so much potential to be more than an over crowded City Street that is often dangerous to Pedestrians.Another problem caused by the over sized sidewalks lies within the retail portion of the mixed use buildings. Now that the trees planted in the sidewalks have matured cars traveling on Pratt St. and even pedestrians traveling on the portion of the sidewalks closest to the street will walk by said retail without ever knowing it's there. The wide sidewalks aren't the sole problem with Pratt St.'s retail.
Take the Bank of America Building, it doesn't have outdoor access to its retail. That gives the impression that it's only for Office Workers housed in that Building. Once more, Shoppers don't want to go inside an Office Building for their retail needs. This is evident with the vacant retail spaces in the Bank of America Building. The spaces are laid out like a Mall Food Court.

Speaking of Malls, let me evaluate Harbor Place. Harbor Place has been, for the past 29 years the epitome of the Inner Harbor. My personal choice for the Inner Harbor revitalization would either be the Old Power Plant Building or the Aquarium. That being said, the Pratt St. Pavilion of Harbor Place is suffering from vacant store fronts. It's hard to access through cars (you'll have to park in a garage which may not be close by) you can get to it on foot but it's mostly used as a pass through in between sky walks.A lot of businesses have either relocated to the Light St. Pavilion or the Galleria. The Pratt St. Pavilion also turns its back on Pratt St., it does however provide frontage to the Inner Harbor Promenade. This also means that the Pratt St. Pavilion blocks Pratt St. from a larger Inner Harbor View.
Lockwood Place got it right.
Notice how it bumps out and offers great visibility to passing motorists and pedestrians alike. This is how Pratt St. needs to be redesigned.
In this general area we are offered a rare look at the Jones Falls. Before the Fallsway and eventually the Jones Falls Expressway were built a look at the Highway's namesake waterway was not a rare gift that Pratt St. offers us.
Now we come to the road itself. Because of its width both with the vehicle lanes and the absurdly wide sidewalks there. The road itself needs to be shifted to where the sidewalks are right now. The sidewalks will be much narrower and trees will be cut down for improved visibility from the road. The far left lane will be for metered on street parking.
The road will have 2 through traffic lanes (that will go east of President St.) one left turn lane and one right turn lane each ending at President St. There will be a landscaped median in the middle. It will be located in the middle of the current alignment. Now what will go to the right of the median? The Red Line!
If Baltimore is serious about having a world class transit system everyone needs to know. Pratt St. being the City's Showcase as in showcasing the City's best attributes wouldn't a City Planner want to showcase our transit system?
The Red Line would be at surface level along Pratt St. from Eutaw to President St. where in both cases it would be tunneled after that. Pratt St's width allows for surface level Light Rail much better than Howard St. which was narrow to begin with. This won't be a repeat of the Howard St. Light Rail fiasco. This will show that surface Light Rail can work in a Downtown setting.
It will have stops at Howard St. for the Convention Center (a Blue Line transfer)
Calvert St. (future Yellow Line transfer)
and the Aquarium. At President St., the Red Line will be tunneled and will branch off to Eastern Avenue or will remain on Pratt St. to go northeast to Orangeville. Option 4C for the Red Line does nothing of the sort, yet another reason for me to dislike it.
Buildings that have the setup like the Bank of America Building where the retail is located inside will be renovated so the retail is more of a classic storefront layout. Shoppers would not have to enter the Office Building itself to access retail.
General Growth Properties, owners of Harbor Place and the Galleria are facing Chapter 11 Bankruptcy they should sell Harborplace to a developer who has deep pockets. The Pratt St. Pavilion would be torn down in favor of a better few of the Harbor. The Light St Pavilion would be expanded and renovated. General Growth probably can't afford such an endeavor.
Like Lockwood Place, 30 East Pratt (currently a parking lot) would be developed with similar retail frontage. 30 East Pratt will be condos not a Hotes like I discussed in a previous post.
Since the Examiner went under, its Office Building now sits vacant. Its dated facade would make for a great redevelopment opportunity as well and since it's next to 30 East Pratt, the two could be developed together.
The Legg Mason building is yet another building whose future is in Jeopardy as Legg Mason will be moving its headquarters to Inner Harbor East. All options should be pursued to ensure this building or the site it sits on has a successful post Legg Mason life.
Now I'm sure you're asking yourselves why redevelop Pratt St.? Well, in order to keep a City's Downtown viable it has to constantly be reexamined and improved upon to keep its vitality. Baltimore, in particular because it's a waterfront City that set the bench mark for redeveloping an old industrial waterfront to a thriving urban oasis. If tourists get even a hint that Baltimore has lost its vitality it will cease to be a Tourist Attraction and its economy will suffer. Lets make Pratt St. the best it can be!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Downtown Westside Redevelopment:The One You've Been Waiting For

For decades City Planners and developers alike have promised to reinvest and redevelop the Westside of Downtown. There have been a few success stories mainly the ones closest to Camden Yards or the Inner Harbor. With the revitalization of the Inner Harbor, Mount Vernon, Bolton Hill, Seton Hill, Ridgley's Delight, and now the State Center TOD and Station North the Westside has become a blighted donut center with gentrification being the outer portions. Lets fill in the Donut once and for all and I think I have the plan that will do just that. This is it, the one you've been waiting for.

The Westside went down the tubes as Suburban Shopping Malls dominated the landscape. Although Baltimore based Department Stores still considered their Downtown branches to be their flagship stores, their suburban counterparts carried higher end merchandise due to the higher spending power of suburbanites. Baltimore based Departments Stores, the anchors of Downtown's Westside closed down all together, were eaten up by a merger, or decided to focus solely on their suburban branches. This left the Westside of Downtown in shambles with nothing but low rent retail with equally priced merchandise. The Westside of Downtown, although it was Baltimore's retail Mecca and it housed clothing factories it wasn't known for having a large housing stock, this could have been a catalyst in its rapid decline or if more housing were there it could have made the decline even faster. That's a question that may never be answered.
On the suburban side of things retail kept evolving. First it was Strip Centers, then it was enclosed Shopping Malls, then it was Big Box Shopping Centers, now it's Lifestyle Centers. Life Style are a blend of Big Box and Shopping Malls all outdoors. Many of these allow cars to drive right through the middle of the Shopping Center (Think Avenue at White Marsh.) Although Life Style Centers still feature acres upon acres of surface parking like their predecessors, they bring back an urban approach to retail that hasn't been seen for generations. Now what does Suburban retail have to do with the Westside of Downtown? Everything!

As I've stated in previous posts, the goal for struggling Cities should be to incorporate suburban conveniences in an urban setting. Capitalizing on the strengths of both and letting the weaknesses of them both fall to the wayside. Call me crazy but I consider the Westside of Downtown to be a giant Life Style Center and a giant TOD District. This allows for maximum density allowing not only lots of retail but housing and offices to go above said retail. This will create a critical mass to patronize the retail on a local level while at the same time making the Westside of Downtown a world class destination like the Inner Harbor.

Now what type of tenants should the Westside of Downtown try to attract? Well, look no further than your local Shopping Mall, Big Box Center, or Lifestyle Center. Where will the Westside find its clientele? Well look no further than it surrounding neighborhoods. They're all College Towns in their own rights. UMB is to the south, UMB Mount Royal to the north, Mount Vernon to the east, Hopkins University and both Charles Village and Station North just beyond Mount Royal. Mall stores are generally geared towards teenagers and College Students.

Although I consider the Westside to be one giant Retail District, I have divided it into several sub districts. These sub districts feed off of each other and complement each other just like in Shopping Malls. The first is the Garment District it will be located in the southside of the "core" of the Westside. It will be located in the following Lxington St. to the south, Saratoga St to the north, Greene St. to the east, and Arch St. to the west. Another block would Saratoga St. to the south, Mulberry St. to the north, Paca St. to the east, and Greene St. to the west. Yet another block in the Garment District would be Saratoga St. to the south, Mulberry St. to the north, Eutaw St. to the east, and Paca St. to the west. The last block of the Garment District will be Saratoga St. to the south, Mulberry St. to the north, Howard St. to the east, and Eutaw St. to the west. Since these stores don't require a large footprint redevelopment will be minimal. There has been some demolition here and there will need to infill development.

Stores in the Garment District should include Aeropastle, Martin & Osa, Hollister, Banana Republic, Abercrombie & Fitch, Mens Wearhouse, Express, Oakley, Foot Action, American Eagle, Eddie Bauer, PacSun, J. Crew, Bebe, Victoria's Secret, Forever 21, The Gap, Fossil, Delia's, Limited Too, The Limited, Foot Locker, New York Company, Chicos, Lucky Brand Jeans, Talbotts, Guicci, DKNY, Fossil, Ann Taylor, and White House Black Market.

There's a Parking Garage at the southeast corner of Paca and Fayette with a large retail space that's vacant. I think an H&M will fit the bill perfect. There will be high rise apartments and condos above all buildings in the Garment District.

Next comes the Housewares/Electronics District this may have superblocks due to the size of showrooms but we'll try to make showrooms two or more stories if this becomes an issue. The Housewares/Electronics District will include Mulberry St. on the south and Franklin St. on the north it will extend from Greene St. to Parke Ave. Stores will include LaZ Boy, The Room Store, Havverty's, Jennifer Convertables, Ethan Allan, Ikea, Willams Sonoma, Brookstone, The Apple Store, Pier 1 Importants, Pottery Barn, Yankee Candle Company, Origins, FYE, and Offenbachers. This area will also play host to independant Boutiques that carry Housewares. The buildings here will be high rises with apartments and condos the closer one gets to Greene St. and Offices the closer one gets to Park Ave.
The next district will be the Restaurant District. This is the G-Rated name for it the true name will be Hell's Kitchen. Baltimore's Hell's Kitchen will be centered along Eutaw St. and its intersection with Madison and Monument Sts. with frontage on the westside of Howard St. This is where graduates of Baltimore International College can open up their own Restaurant or Celebrity Chefs who have overlooked Baltimore will have a great place to discover Charm City.
Just below Hell's Kitchen will be "Westside Square" this will be a public square that will link the Green Seton Hill Neighborhood to the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon. Its borders will be Eutaw St. to the west, Howard St. to the east, Centre St. to the south, and Monument St. to the north. Condos and apartments will be on the above floors.
On Howard St. across from Hell's Kitchen will be Jewelers Row. This is where Jewelers like Jared's the Galleria, Zales, Kay Jewelers, Chipp Smyth, Swarvinski, Fire & Ice, White Hall Co., Littmans Jewelers, and Reeds Jewelers. Condos and Apartments will be on the above floors.
Just above Jewelers Row sits the former shell of Antiques Row. There are still a few Antique in operation on this otherwise desolate block on the east side of Howard St. across from Maryland General Hospital. This suggests there may still be a market for a viable Antiques Row if even merchants came back and a critical mass of population may be able to support it.
Speaking of Maryland General Hospital it's time the Hospital expanded. This is not me talking there are plans to renovate and expand the Hospital. I think the expansion should be west of the existing building with Eutaw St. frontage. The existing buildings here will have to be torn down to accommodate this.
The northeast corner of Howard and Franklin St. will play host to four Hotels. A Clarion, Embassy Suites, a Marriott Courtyard, and a Westin.Caddy Cornered from these Hotels will be the rebuilt Congress which in my opinion shouldn't have been torn down in the first place. There are apartments being built on part of the site but they will be surrounded by the new Congress.
Across from the four Hotels sits the shell of the Mayfair Theatre. This cannot and will not be torn down if I have any say in it which I don't but what I'm proposing is what I proposed in my previous about Movie Theatres in Baltimore. It will be a ten screen Multiplex showing first run movies. It will still feature the old Mayfair Marquis although a chain Cinema will run it.
It will be expanded in the back to Eutaw St. and to the sides to Franklin St. and the Old Western High School (now condos.)
Next we travel south to the Department Stores around Lexington St. The Grand Dame that was once the Flagship location for Hutzlers stands almost completely vacant. This will be a mall in and of itself. It could fit a Dicks Sporting Goods, Staples, DSW Shoe Warehouse, JoAnn Fabrics and a Ross Dress for Less.
In fact, it will have a similar rebirth than that of its sister store in Towson.
The Old Brager Gautmans will be a Barnes and Noble. Just east of the Stewarts Building will be a Bally Total Fitness.
The upper side of Lexington Mall will be called "Organic Row" which will house Health Food Stores like GNC, The Vitamin Shoppe, and possibly Davids Natural Market a long time staple in Columbia that keeps growing that could be talked into opening a Baltimore Store. Just above Organic Row will be the R US towers The first three floors will house an R US Store; Toys R US, Babies R US, and Kids R US.Next we come to the Super Pampered Block. This will be located across from Lexington Market on the east side of Eutaw St. and will be home to upscale Day Spas and stores such as Rafets Hair Masters, Nail Trix, Bubbles Salon & Spa, MAC, Sephora, Bath & Body Works, Faces, and Merle Norman.
On the other side of Lexington Market sits a three story parking garage where there's a proposal to build 23 Town homes, 2 100 unit towers and 50 unit tower. This is known as the Residences at Lexington Market. I believe this has been shelved due to the economy but I think it should be revived when the time is right.
South of Lexington Market is the perfect location for a transit hub. Both the Light Rail and the Subway have stops here which are Baltimore's only two rail lines. The Red Line is not set to have a stop here but in my Red Line plan it does which bumps the number of rail lines stopping here to three. This will also be the beginning and end point for several bus routes. A Taxi stand can also be located here.Speaking of transit there are tunnels under Howard St. currently occupied by the CSX but they will have to vacate. After that, the Light Rail should use those tunnels and Howard St. should be made into a two way street its entire length to ease the burden of its neighboring streets.
The intersection of Fayette and Greene Sts will be made into neighborhood retail anchored by a Harris Teeter Superkmaret and a Rite Aid Pharmacy (the same Rite Aid Pharmacy currently located at the Townes at the Terraces)and neighborhood conviences such as a Coffee House, a Dry Cleaner, a Wine Cellar, smaller restaurants like Chipotle, Chick Filet, Quiznos, Pei Wei Asian Diner, and Boston Market.

The last section of the Westside is, at least in its current condition, everybody's least favorite. It's the ugly sprawling and outdated Social Security Complex. Good News! It's vacated its fortress and moving to the new State Center! Since it doesn't fit in the new Wetside I'm proposing the whole complex; buildings and garages will hot the wrecking ball. Would you miss it? Neither will I. Now, the development potential here is almost too good to be true. One market segment I left out of the Westside was kids clothing stores. This will be called the "Junior Garment District" it will include stores like; The Children's Place, Gap Kids, Abercrombie Kids, Old Navy, Pumpkin Patch, Kids Foot Locker, Janie & Jack, Lucky Brand Jeans, Icing by Claires, Hot Topic, The Disney Store, Nautica Kids, Build a Bear, Baby Gap, and Club Libby Lu.

Now as I've stated the New Westside will be high rises whether they be brand new buildings or existing buildings that will be expanded upward which will house Apartments, Ccondos, or Offices. Now, there have been some residential conversions worth mentioning. I don't know how successful they are because of the economy and the slow pace of other development projects and ones that have been scrapped all together. In its current state the Westside hasn't become the draw planners had been hoping for. These projects include;

The Old Western High School,

The Old Hects Building,

The Sailcloth Factory,


Camden Court,

The Atrium (built on the grounds of the former Hoschold Kohn Building),

and the Old Stewarts Building.

Another project of note is Avalon at Centerpoint. Centerpoint was supposed to be a superblcok developed by Bank of America. Due to Bank of America's financial woes they sold off Centerpoint and its future is undetermined. Avalon at Centerpoint appeared to have jumped the gun on this one.

Well that's it, the one you've been waiting for. Now why is this the one you've been waiting for? It's not too comprehensive and it's not too small either. It's comprehensive yet it examines every parcel of land at the same time and determines what will best suit it. It doesn't redevelop one building and let its neighbors remain blighted, it tackles everything. Demolition is minmial compared to other plans which will make preservationists happy. It tackles traffic issues and creates a multi modal transit hub at Lexington Market where three lines meet. It creates a critical mass of residents and workers to support all the new retail while making it a regional draw as well. It puts five Hotels in the middle allowing tourists to experince the New Westside as well. It connects itself to its surrounding neighorhoods; Charles Center, The Inner Harbor, Seton Hill, Mount Vernon, UMB,and the State Center. Most importantly, it takes the conviences of Suburbia and puts them in an urban setting building upon the strengths of both and letting the weaknesses of them both fall to the wayside. This was it! The One You've Been Waiting For!