Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Southside Marketplace: Get with the Times

South Baltimore, for most of its existence has been home to the working class. Workers from the Bethlehem Steel Ship Yards, Proctor Gamble (Tide), The Grain Pier Elevator, Domino Sugar, McCormick Spice, and the Shipping Docks of Locust Point are just some of the major Employers of South Baltimore. Locust Point was the nation's second largest Immigration Port next to New York's Ellis Island. Workers crowded South Baltimore's many watering holes after a long hard day of work only to wake up at the crack of dawn to do it all over again.
Those days have long since passed. Back then, the Corner Store was the principal outlet to do one's shopping. During the flight to the suburbs, between Riverside and Locust Point a Suburban Style Shopping Center was built. The Shopping Center was and is known as Southside Market Place. It was built at a time when South Baltimore's unemployment rate was sky high as jobs in the industrial sector were disappearing never to be found again. It's only natural that the list of tenants in Southside Marketplace catered to an impoverished clientele.It's 2009 now and an awful lot has changed in South Baltimore since the flight to the suburbs. No, the industrial sector didn't make a comeback. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Industrial land has been bought up by rich developers and have either transformed these industrial land monuments into upscale housing or offices or have redeveloped them completely. Here's what the old Bethlehem Steel Ship Yards look like today.Now it's home to Harborview, a luxury low rise high rise condominium and town home development with two more high rieses known as Pinnacle 1 and Pinnacle 2 at Harborview coming down the pipeline. Want to see what's become of the old Grain Elevator Pier?Yep, the Grain Pier has been reborn as Luxury Condos with prices hitting seven figures. Also on the Grain Pier Property are several dozen luxury two car garage town homes. This development is known as Silo Point. Want to see the old Tide Factory?Another perservation success story! This time in the form of Offices and Retail. It's been properly named "Tide Point" for the fact that it's on the water and it housed a factory complex that manufactored Tide Laundry Detergant. There are plans to build residences on the Tide Point Property. Whether it comes to fruition we'll just have to see. Here are some more ambitious development projects that have flanked South Baltimore.The Ritz Carlton Residences Starting at $1 Million topping out at $5 Million

Harbour Pointe, not to be confused with Harbor Point which is the former Allied Chemical Site in Fels Point. And Federal Place, whose construction has been put on hold until the Housing Market makes a comeback. The vacant land between where I took the picture and the row of homes should have already been built out. Obviously, all this new upsclae development would have a positive effect on the Tenant list for Southside Market Place...... It hasn't?Nope, the ultra gentrification of South Baltimore (which includes the original row homes) hasn't done much for Southside Market Place. Well, I guess it's up to me to get Southside Market Place with the times. Don't worry, I've got some aces up my sleeve! Would I write this post if I didn't?First lets start with the anchor tenant. It's currently a Shoppers Food Warehouse or Shoppers for short. It doesn't exactly scream $1 Million Dollar home dwellers. I should take this opportunity to inform you that a Harris Teeter is scheduled to be built on an adjacent lot. This will help South Baltimore's retail get with the times but it's not an end all. One up& coming Supermarket that Baltimore City lacks is a Wegmans. I think that with the new development and its high end price tags that Southside Market Place should be the home of Baltimore City's first Wegmans. This will give Southside Market Place the distinction of being "destination retail" i.e. it will draw people from far away as well as the locals.
With the prototype Wegmans at a whopping 130,000 Square Feet there will be a massive expansion and redvelopment to accomodate with Shoppers topping out at 44,264 Square feet. The strip pictured above will be demolished to make way for Wegmans. Its tenants will go here.This part of the Shopping Center suffers from a high concentration of vacancies and will be filled with existing tenants whose currents spaces will be cleared to make way for Wegmans. There should also be a tenant overhaul such as replacing Family Dollar with a Pottery Barn, Lucky Nails with an upscale full service Day Spa, Cigarette Outlet with an upscale Wine Cellar, Goodwill Superstore for an Ann Taylor Loft and a Sephora. Popeye's for a Houlehans. The Rite Aid Space will be divided into several spaces that include Coldstone Creamery, Starbucks, Chicos, Gamestop, and an Art Gallery. Great Clips for Jareds the Galleria of Jewlery Goodyear for White House Black Market. Behind this strip will be a Multiplex Movie Theatre. I know this was tryed but I believe it can work this time.
It doesn't need a wide entrance as illustrated with the recently opened Landmark Theatres in Harbor East.
With this new line up of tenants Southside Marketplace will certainly have gotten with the times. South Baltimore has become an upper class haven. The Watering Holes have been reborn as upsclae bars and clubs that make me feel uneasy because everyone there is a 20 something with large bank account. I'm a 20 something but a large bank account? Not so much which is ironic because the Blue Collar Working Stiff (which I'm proud to be) was the demographic targeted for South Baltimore. The times have changed and Southside Marketplace has to get with them.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Pigtown:All Things Baltimore

Baltimore call itself a City of Neighborhoods. Each and every one of these neighborhoods contributes to Baltimore as a whole. Some things about Baltimore are good while others aren't so good. One thing about Baltimore is that despite the bad press, it's trying harder than ever to become a world class self sustained American City.
Now what makes Baltimore Baltimore? The following list of is a combination of Baltimore's assets and challenges in no particular order. Gentrification, redevelopment, crabs, Babe Ruth, John Waters, Bee Hive Hairdos, Ethnic Population, Black Population, narrow row homes, vacant lots and buildings, crime, sanitation, drugs, prostitution, Corner Stores, Underground Punk Rock Scene, Proud of its quirky history, low High School Enrollment, rotting industrial buildings, Population influx, Population living in the same place for generations, and Marble front steps. Good or bad, this is Baltimore, home to 640,000 residents from Violetville to Lauraville. Now what if there were a neighborhood that was a micro organism for Baltimore as a whole? Well guess what? I've found one; for better or worse it's Pigtown: All Things Baltimore.
Pigtown got its name from the Pigs who ran the streets from the B&O Railroad Station to the many Slaughter Houses that graced the neighborhood. Not all Pigs made it there though, residents were known to snatch one up for dinner. Lately gentrification has de emphasized Pigtown's history thinking its name would turn perspective residents away. They thought "Washington Village" was more fitting. A true Baltimoron, would turn their nose at such a notion and embrace their quirky and proud to call Pigtown Home. Residents still celebrate their history with their annual "running of the pigs" it's exactly what it sounds like.The Corner Store and Watering Hole once was the principal source of neighborhood retail for Baltimore. Baltimore has largely abandoned this but Pigtown, with a few scattered exceptions has kept this tradition alive. If you look and listen closely in Pigtown, you may stumble upon an Underground Punk Rock Scene. This is a little known fact about Charm City but lots of Baltimore's diverse working class neighborhoods house some of tomorrow's budding Punk Rockers. Although born in Ridgley's Delight, Babe Ruth roamed the streets of Pigtown before being forced into St. Marys. John Waters credits Pigtown for keeping its quirky spirit alive and can be seen at SoWeBohemian Arts Festival where the number of BeeHive Hairdos give Hampden's "Hunfest" a run for its money.
Baltimore's housing stock is diverse however, the narrow 2 bedroom 1 bath row home reigns king. This is especially true in Pigtown. If you go to Baltimore and all you see are luxury condos, step away from the Harbor into Pigtown, and pretty much any other neighborhood that isn't "on the water." Although some have been demolished due to extreme blight and neglect Pigtown has vacant row homes that are in much better structural shape than its peers. Could this be your new home? You'd be surprised what a little elbow grease can amcomplish, just any Pigtown resident who's done a complete row house rehab they're easy to find.
Not all Pigs fly in Pigtown. It still struggles with Vacant Buildings, Homicides, Public Health, and low High School Enrollment. This mirrors Baltimore's largest struggles and is not being taken lightly. In an effort to deter crime Pigtown has organized "nights out", neighborhood watch, and Citizens on Patrol. Public Health and Low High School haven't been as successful with drug use and prostitution still rampant on the streets of Pigtown. The two go hand and hand unfortunately. Baltimore has been phasing out traditional High Schools including Southwestern where Pigtown was in the attendance area of. The City is banking on the fact that "Smaller Learning Communities" that emphasize Career finding and Magnet Programs that appeal to students will curb the City's high drop out rate. So far Baltimore's dropout rate is falling which menas that its graduation rate is climbing. Pigtown's drawing power is slowly solving the problem of vacant homes and store fronts.The racial makeup of Pigtown is one Baltimore's most diverse. According to the 2000 Census Pigtown was 49% White, 45% Black 4% Asian 1% Hispanic. Today, I beileve Pigtown to be 43% White 51% Black 5% Asian 2% Hispanic It's more White than and less Black than Baltimore as a whole but boasts one of Baltimore's largest Asian Populations. It's right in line with Baltimore as far as the Hispanic population goes. Pigtown is not a victim of White Flight. Pigtown's Population influx includes new White residents. On the flip side Pigtown has Black residents who have lived there for generations.In the form of gentrification in Pigtown, it came with the development of the Camden Crossing town home development. Although successful, it doesn't quite coincide with the traditional row home development of Pigtown. Camden Crossing however, is graced with tree lined streets, the homes are wider, many with two car garages. Camden Crossing is known as a "Brownfields" redevelopment site as it was built on former industrial land.
Gentrification isn't confined to Camden Crossing alone. Washington Bulevard has been designated as a "Main Street" which has brought new businesses into Pigtown. The above photo shows how close Pigtown is to Downtown. This proximity shows that Pigtown can capture potential Harbor Dwellers who prefer a traditional Urban Neighborhood like Pigtown.
This post shows how Pigtown has made amazing strides in the past several years and how Baltimore, the City of Neighborhoods has a microorganism known as Pigtown whose attributes mirror that of the City and 640,000 of its residents. Pigtown is truly All Things Baltimore.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Whatever happened to the Dollar Row House?

Row Homes! Get Your Row Home! $1 each! Historically designated! Just $1! Own a piece of Baltimore History! Just $1!
I consider the $1 row home to be the best initiative put in place by Mayor William Donald Scahefer. He had the honor of being Mayor when the initiatives of past mayors (D'Aleasandro both II and III, and Theodore McKeldin) but the $1 row home was all Schaefer.
The initiatives of Schaefer's predecessors focused on bringing jobs and tourism to Downtown Baltimore. Schaefer had the insight to see that in order for Downtown Baltimore to make a true turn around that it housing had to be thrown in the mix. He capitalized on the successful revolt on extending the JFX down Boston St. across the Harbor to meet I-95.Now why just $1? Well, the effected neighborhoods that hug Downtown were in shambles when the proposal was thought up. Part of the $1 purchase price was an agreement that the owner would completely renovate the house and restore it to its former glory. This would cost upwards of $100,000 in 1980s dollars. If these homes were sold for profit it would clean out the Bank Accounts of the buyers. Selling these homes for $1 would be a long term investment, and it paid off big time.
You know how the old saying goes; "If it ain't broke don't fix it" which begs the question; Why did they stop it? I think I have the answer. It was a very narrow scope of neighborhoods close to Downtown that the City wanted to gentrify.Since the $1 Row Home there have been other grass roots efforts of Homesteading throughout the City. Although some have proven to be successful none of them hold a torch to the $1 Row Home. Could its success be attributed to the three basic principals of Real Estate? Location, location , location. I don' think so.
So why not bring it back? Despite our economic woes there is a pent up demand for affordable housing in Baltimore. It doesn't get much more affordable than $1. Of course there's the clause that the new home owner would have to fully renovate and restore their new purchase but when it's all said and done it would still fit the bill for "affordable housing" this is an unorthodox approach to solving the City's affordable housing gap but it gets the job done. If executed properly, it will gentrify neighborhoods that are currently struggling.Neighborhoods that would benefit from the new $1 Row Home initiative would include Reservoir Hill, Pen Lucy, Barclay,
Edmondson Village,
and Mount Clare.

Now why these neighborhoods? They each have a certain something that's unique about them that may make them attractive to potential buyers and additional population would help the neighborhoods. First Reservoir Hill, it has some of Baltmore's most beautiful housing stock that's currently rotting. It's close to Bolton Hill and Druid Hill Park and is well respected by historians.
Now we come to Pen Lucy. With lots of Public Works projects in the works according to the Pen Lucy Master Plan, the neighborhood will already look more attractive. Pen Lucy is next to neighborhoods that have gentrified or never went into decline. Now it's Pen Lucy's turn.Next is Barclay. It's close to the up & coming Station North. There's also a plan to redevelop a large portion of the neighborhood so the $1 Row Home initiative would be made available only to the homes not slated for demolition. Barclay enjoyed a dramatic drop in Violent Crime in 2008 and I consider it to be a vital link between Mount Vernon and North Baltimore.Next is Edmondson Village. It's still rough around the edges but it has great potential. It will have a Red Line Stop, it's close to the redeveloping Uplands, and it backs to Baltimore's most unrealized gem; Leakin Park. It also has maintained a high rate of home ownership which is currently in Jeopardy. Residents are terrified of signs popping up promising to be buy homes for cheap by slum lords and will bring in renters who will bring the neighborhood into decline.
Ah Remington, it borders upon Hampden, Druid Hill Park, Charles Village, Station North, and Johns Hopkins University. Despite a small bump in crime it's still a very safe neighborhood. Its population is diverse with no racial tension and I've found it to be a very friendly neighborhood. So why does it suffer from a high vacancy rate? I'll examine that in another post. But $1 row homes will help the population swell.Finally, we come to Mount Clare. Like Remington it's yet to be rediscovered. Unlike Remington it has fewer advantages working in its favor. However, Carroll Park is in its backyard. It needs a better connection between the neighborhood and the park. It is near other SoWeBo neighborhoods that are gentrifying but its western border is the couplet of Monroe St. and Fulton Avenue. With a gentrified Mount Clare maybe the $1 Row Home initiative can cross the Monroe St. and Fulton Avenue.
As we look down the road to renewal we must ask ourselves certain questions. Will it work? What are the risks? Will Banks give loans to the buyers of the $1 row homes? The third question is what may throw a monkey wrench into this plan. Banks are failing and the ones that aren't probably won't want to finance home improvement loans to first time buyers who are taking, for lack of a better term a City Handout. Well, we're looking to our City Government to sell Row Homes its owns for $1 so lets look to the Feds to help finance the renovations. HUD, FHA, First Time Buyer Tax Credit, Economic Bailout Money, Historic Housing Credit, these are just some of the Federal Programs and Services that can make this proposal a reality.
So Whatever Happened to the Dollar Row Home? Why did it go away? Because it worked, that's why.