Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The McHenry Row Effect

Mixed Use Development has taken the market by storm. It's great for both suburbs that are low on land and great for Cities that need to bring suburban type stores to an urban setting. Some mixed use developments are better than others. My favorite mixed use development is McHenry Row located in Locust Point. It combines the need for a large suburban Grocery Store with Ground Floor Retail and Apartments above. There's also an Office Building and two parking garages to cut down on wasted space. A second phase for McHenry Row is planned that includes more Apartments, Offices, and a Hotel.
The Grocery Store is located at the back of the Center but the Main St. layout keeps it visible from the road. The Main St. that runs through the Center is flanked by the Apartments with ground floor Retail. The office Building is located on the Main St. as well while the parking garages are perfectly located to provide adequate parking without over-powering the buildings. In fact, I'm so impressed with the layout of McHenry Row that I would like to redevelop other Shopping Centers that have a suburban layout in Baltimore City using the same basic concepts as McHenry Row. I would call it the McHenry Row Effect.
Waverly Crossroads, at the moment this Center is nothing but a Giant and surface parking lot located in Waverly along 33rd St. My plan would be to build a parking garage at the back of the existing surface lot and build row house retail with 33rd St. frontage. The parking garage would serve both the Giant as well as the new retail.
Mount Clare Junction, Mount Clare Junction is already a mixed use development but I find it to be suburban in nature and doesn't connect with its surroundings. The Price Rite Grocery Store will stay where it is and the Retail will move across the parking lot and closer to the Price Rite's front door. This new Retail will have Apartments above it like McHenry Row. The Retail and Apartments will have parking garages behind it.
Part of this redevelopment will better incorporate the B&O Railroad Museum to this development and will also see the development of the vacant surface parking lot at the end of Ostend St. Along Pratt St., the Baltimore Housing Authority has Offices. These will remain but the building will grow taller by several stories so that the upper floors may provide housing for the homeless. Hopefully a redeveloped Mount Clare Junction will usher new investment to the surrounding Mount Clare Neighborhood where there are many vacants.
Southside Marketplace, this is another suburban style center that's located in the middle of the City. This time it's Southside Marketplace located in South Baltimore just outside Locust Point. In fact, it's just across Key Highway from McHenry Row which is the prototype Center for this post. Southside is anchored by a Shoppers Food Warehouse and includes a traditional line up of Retail tenants. This Center's facade was modernized in the late 2000s but it wasn't redeveloped.
I would like to see it redeveloped in true urban fashion. The redevelopment includes building a new Shoppers just behind the railroad tracks and I would relocate the Retail with Apartments above it closer to the intersection of Forte Ave. and Lawrence St. with parking garages where the current Shoppers is and behind the Merritt Athletic Club.  
As space for new development in Cities is at more and more of a premium, Retail will continue to urbanize itself by putting other uses over top of it be it Residential, Commercial, or Hotel. McHenry Row has captured that need perfectly through its present and future uses and its model can and should be replicated through the redevelopment of suburban Centers in the City.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

How is Washington Boulevard Faring?

What Neighborhoods do you think of when asked about which Neighborhoods in Baltimore are "up and coming?" Many people's answers will include a combination of the following Neighborhoods; Brewer's Hill, Port Covington, Station North, and Middle East (near Hopkins.) One Neighborhood that most will forget about is Pigtown. This is easy to overlook because Pigtown has been "up & coming" for about 30 years now. One thing that isn't easy to forget is that Washington Boulevard is the central spine of Pigtown and by looking at Washington Boulevard, it can be easy to see how Pigtown is doing. With that being said, how is Washington Boulevard Faring?
Today Washington Boulevard appears to be faring relatively well. It was poised to make a comeback in the mid 2000s when one block to the north, a new town home development known as Camden Crossing broke ground. Camden Crossing began to sell well but when the economy crashed, so did Camden Crossing. Along Washington Boulevard at that time, more upscale Businesses began opening along the Boulevard creating a Main St. effect. The Main St. effect stretched from Cross St. to MLK Boulevard. Past Cross St., Washington Boulevard becomes more Residential in nature.
Not too surprisingly, the more upscale Businesses that had begun to pop up along Washington Boulevard in the mid 2000s didn't last long. The up & coming status of Pigtown was destroyed with the economy. This was nothing against Washington Boulevard and Pigtown as a whole, virtually every up & coming Neighborhood in the nation took the same massive hit when the economy tanked.

As the 2000s became the 2010s, there were many boarded up homes and Businesses along Washington Boulevard. Some of these buildings were some of the new Businesses that had opened and others had been boarded up for some time. Since Washington Boulevard is part of an up & coming Neighborhood, there will still be buildings that have yet to see the rehab they so desperately need. Like the City of Baltimore, Pigtown has been losing population in the 2000s as well.
Today Washington Boulevard and the surrounding Pigtown are in transition. Granted they've been in transition for 30 years but this time the transition appears to be moving upward. The number of vacants along Washington Boulevard has plummeted. Boarded up homes which were once much more common have given way to freshly rehabbed occupied homes. Streetscape enhancements have also improved lighting along Washington Boulevard and have contributed to the Main St. feel the Community is going for. Especially between Cross St. and MLK Boulevard.
On the Retail front there have been several new shoppes and restaurants that have recently opened along Washington Boulevard. Tony's Grill, Tasty Creations Bakery, Ebeneezer Ethiopian Restaurant, Breaking Bread, and Cafe Jovial have joined Washington Boulevard staples such as Hamilton Bank, Nick's Rotisserie (which has been renovated), and Sunny's Carry Out. The old public Bathhouse and Fire Station will be rehabbed to make the mixed use development known as "Bathhouse Square" which will included Milk & Honey Market which will relocate from Mount Vernon as well as Apartments on the upper floors.        
Although these great Businesses have moved to Washington Boulevard, it's still an up and coming area. This means that there are still improvements throughout the area that need to be done to keep attracting new growth and investment. The first would be additional lighting. Although lighting has improved in recent years, I still believe that in order to keep Washington Boulevard safe at nigh, additional lighting is essential. Next would be facade improvements. Although newer Businesses have modernized their building's facade, older Businesses have yet to do so in some cases. Having a well maintained building both inside and out is good not only for your Business but the entire block and entire Neighborhood as a whole.
Next, I would do additional streetscape enhancements to Washington Boulevard between Cross St. and MLK Boulevard. This will include but not be limited to, brick crosswalks, new mast arm traffic signals, resurfaced roads and sidewalks, and additional way-finding signage. My final improvement to Washington Boulevard would be to redevelop the 700 block of Washington Boulevard between Barre St. and MLK Boulevard. This is a shame since this block has seen new Businesses open recently but it does not fit the traditional row house with Retail scheme that the rest of Washington Boulevard is known for. In order to draw people into the Neighborhood, the entrance to it which is the intersection of MLK Boulevard and Washington Boulevard has to be a welcoming environment that ties the area together. Long term I would like to redevelop the Bon Secours building into a Grocery Store to anchor Washington Boulevard. This partly because I would like to redevelop Mount Clare Junction eventually.
The title of this post poses the question; How is Washington Boulevard Faring? The short answer is that it's faring better than it has for a while but there are many additional improvements that can and should be made to ensure long term success for just for itself but for all of Pigtown as a whole.  

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Perkins Homes Redevelopment: A Comprehensive Master Plan

It's finally happening! After years of speculation and requests from neighboring Communities and Residents themselves, Perkins Homes is finally going to be redeveloped. When a public housing community in Baltimore is redeveloped, the scope of the work stays within the boundaries of said public housing Community.

With Perkins Homes, I want to challenge that way of thinking by creating a Perkins Homes Redevelopment District. This District will extend north of Perkins Homes and will include underutilized land areas in East Baltimore that can either house current Perkins Homes Residents, or other Residents looking for newly built affordable housing be it for rent or for purchase.
Perkins Homes used to fit in perfectly in East Baltimore. Not only was the area surrounded by low and how rise public housing, but the traditional row house Neighborhoods such as Fells Point, Upper Fells Point, Washington Hill, and Little Italy were being drained of their population and jobs. Today, reinvestment and redevelopment has been in full force in the Neighborhoods surrounding Perkins Homes as once vacant row homes are being lovingly restored, redevelopment has created the Inner Harbor East Neighborhood which in addition to new housing and Retail has brought jobs back to the area. Finally Perkins Homes' public housing Neighbors have been replaced by lower density mixed income town homes.
Today Perkins Homes sticks out like a sore thumb. It remains an island of blight in a sea of reinvestment and gentrification. Both Residents and Neighbors have been calling on the City to redevelop the aging complex for some time. Finally, the calls were heard and redevelopment will be coming down the pipeline. Usually when a public housing development is redeveloped, the only thing focused on is development itself. As an example, when Murphy Homes in Upton was torn down, it was replaced by a lovely mixed income town home development known as Heritage Crossing. Heritage Crossing did its job by transforming the land it sits on, but the surrounding Upton Neighborhood is still in dire straits. This why with Perkins Homes I want to expand the redevelopment area to touch upon a few other areas that will expand the transformation.
First, I will cover what I believe should happen to the actual Perkins Homes. Once demolished, I believe the mix of uses should be a mix of Apartments, Condos, and Row Homes. I say Row Homes instead of  Town Homes because I would the finished product to fit into the surrounding Neighborhoods which consist primarily of traditional Row Houses. The Apartments/Condos will be centered on Pratt St. which will give the area a Main St. feel. Further west on Pratt St. this was accomplished between Little Italy and Historic Jonestown (Albemarle Square.) All housing types will be mixed income and will range in size so that individuals and families of all sizes will be welcome.

Now to include the other parts of the area I would like to include in the Perkins Homes Redevelopment District. Just across the street from Perkins Homes on Pratt St. lies City Springs Elementary School and the former Lombard Middle School. I'm always looking to both build new Schools in the City while decreasing under-used Schools in the process to balance capacity and enrollment. In this case, I would demolish the old Lombard Middle School and relocate Magnet Programs housed there. On the site, I would build a brand new City Springs Elementary that would also house students from Commodore John Rogers Elementary and Wolfe Street Academy. Once this school opens, the current City Springs building would be torn down and replaced with row homes.
North of Perkins Homes are a couple of other vacant or otherwise under utilized blocks. The first is the east side of Eden St. between Lombard St. or Baltimore St. the other one is the west side of Eden St. between Baltimore St. and Fairmount Avenue. New Row Homes will be built on these lots. Next we come to City Springs Park. I see lots of potential here but I believe in order to further enhance it, it must be expanded. That's why I'm proposing expanding it west of Dallas St. by demolishing the current buildings and making it part of the park. I love that this Park already has an outdoor pool and urban garden. Enhancements I would add are a baseball diamond, football field and track, and basketball and tennis courts. I would also landscape the pool area.
Next I would cross Fayette St. and build Senior public housing on the vacant land near Douglass Homes.Eventually Douglass Homes itself will probably redeveloped.  I would continue with more Senior public housing on both sides of Central Avenue including the now shuttered Sojourner-Douglass College. These new buildings would look similar to the current Senior Building on Central Avenue that's part of the Pleasant View Gardens Community.
Lastly, I would make enhancements to the east side of Aisquith St. between Fayette St. and Orleans St. First, I would tear the down the current Community Center for Pleasant View Gardens and relocate a few feet down the road in the old Eastern High School Building. The old Eastern High School Building will of course be restored to its original grandeur before becoming the new home for the Pleasant View Gardens Community Center. In the current spot, I would put in another park. This would have more green space as well as a Football and track as well as an urban farm. I think this will further enhance the welcoming environment Pleasant View Gardens has worked hard to maintain.
As you can see, the Perkins Homes Redevelopment District goes far beyond Perkins Homes proper. Of course that's the point. With all of these projects looked at as individuals, they would never get funded. But if tacked on to an existing redevelopment initiative and looked at as a comprehensive Master Plan for the surrounding area, suddenly enhancing parks, school construction, and more Senior Public Housing can go hand in hand with redeveloping Perkins Homes.        

Monday, November 28, 2016

Church Square Clay Courts and All Things Gay St.

Lately I have been mentioning something I've branded as "The Tentacle Effect" when discussing reinvestment and redevelopment in East Baltimore. It's something that I see happening with the Hopkins redevelopment going up Broadway. I would like to see this happen in other parts of East Baltimore moving northbound to North Avenue.
This post focuses on Gay St. and how it can reconnect to itself and run as a straight shot from Pratt St. all the way to North Avenue. There will have to be a lot of reworking of the urban grid and redevelopment to make it all work, but I intended to show you step by step how to do it.
Given the narrow nature of Gay St., it will be a one way northbound route which is what it currently is in its southern spur. Not much will change with Gay St.'s southern spur as it travels northeast bound from Pratt St. to Orleans St. If and when the JFX is demolished, some traffic patterns will have to change which is true for all streets that meet the JFX. Between the JFX and Orleans St., Gay St. has a very nice streetscape with historic buildings that have seen better days. I would also like to point out that the road is relatively wide. This would make a great historic preservation area with on street parking, two lanes of thru traffic, and newly rehabbed buildings.

Orleans St. is where the southern spur of Gay St. ends. In order to continue going north, Gay St, traffic blends into Esnor St. by veering off to the left. To keep Gay St. continuing on its former and future path, Oldtown Mall will have to re-open to vehicular traffic plain and simple. Going through Oldtown Mall, Gay St. will be a one way northbound street with just one lane of traffic and no on street parking. Reopening Gay St. will have to be carefully planned in conjunction with the rebuilding and rehabbing of Oldtown Mall. I don't condone the tearing down of the existing buildings.
Oldtown Mall stops at Aisquith St. just short of Monument St. Gay St. will have to cut through the front of the Monument House Apartment Building. Either additional traffic signals will be added or a large roundabout will have to be mitigate the addition of Gay St. going through Aisquith and Monument Streets. Fortunately, all of the streets in question are one way which will make the transition that much easier.  
Above Monument St., Gay St. will run right through Dunbar High's track and football field. I have always been less than impressed with the placement of this field since the School Building is located 1 block kitty-corner southeast. 2 other Schools in the same block as Dunbar High have shut down within the last decade (Thomas G. Hayes Elementary and Dunbar Middle) but their buildings remain. I would suggest tearing down the old Elementary and Middle School buildings and relocating the Dunbar High fields directly behind the building. This not only will provide a clear path for Gay St. to continue above Monument St., but the remaining portion of the field will be ripe for new development as well.
The intersection of Central Avenue and Madison St. will now have Gay St. running through it. This result in either a redesigned traffic signal, or a roundabout. Above this intersection, there's a clear path of land for Gay St. to continue through without any demolition required. The parking lot for the Waters Tower Apartment Building will have to relocated but the building itself may remain in place.
Perhaps the biggest redevelopment associated with re-connecting Gay St. is Church Square Shopping Center. Redeveloping this Shopping Center not only will only Gay St. to continue its path towards Broadway uninterrupted, it will solve a food desert problem. The Shopping Center will now comprise of two block city blocks; the one it occupies now and the one directly east of it. A brand new Grocer that's larger than the current Save-A Lot will occupy the land east of Bond St. The Clay Courts Apartments on Eager St. will have to be torn down as will the mostly vacant row homes along Ashland Avenue as well. The row homes along Broadway will remain in place as will the Church that occupies this block. The remaining Church Square Retail will be torn down and redeveloped along Ashland Avenue so that Gay St. can continue its pathway to Broadway.
The last block between the new Gay St. and Broadway goes between Bond St. and Broadway above Eager St. this block comprises the remainder of Clay Courts Apartments. Unfortunately, there's no path for Gay St. with these Apartments configured the way they are. They will have to be torn down and redeveloped once Gay St. has opened and the two can co-exist peacefully. At Chase St. there's a stub of Gay St. that once connected to the other end of Gay St.
With the new Gay St. connection, all that would need to be done is breakup the Broadway median and create a new fully signalized intersection with Broadway and Gay St. Once this is done, Gay St. can now run uninterrupted from Pratt St. to North Avenue as a northbound one way Street and thereby relieve traffic on the JFX and I-695 while simultaneously opening East Baltimore up for further new and rehabbed developments.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Rerouting Route 1

Before the interstate era, Route 1 was known as the road that traveled from Maine to Florida. These days we traveling from Maine to Florida by car we take I-95 since it doesn't have any traffic lights. Route 1 is not a straight shot from Maine to Florida because as Cities have grown around it, it's gotten chopped up and rerouted. It has been given bypasses and alternate routes so that older sections of the road that can't be widened aren't overwhelmed with thru traffic.
Route 1's journey through Baltimore City is no different. It uses many different monikers upon entering the City from the Southwest as "Washington Boulevard" before taking the route of Monroe St./Fulton Ave., then North Ave, before turning Northeast as Belair Road to leave the City. When entering the City as Washington Boulevard, and as Monroe St./Fulton Avenue, it's assigned the moniker "Alt Route 1." 
This is because the road splits in two in Halethorpe. The other Route 1 takes on the moniker "Southwestern Boulevard" which is a wider limited access Route 1 that goes through Halethorpe and Arbutus before entering the City and joining Wilkins Avenue. Wilkins Avenue doubles as Route before meeting Monroe St/Fulton Avenue where Route 1 joins Alt. Route 1. This is the complete journey of Route 1 in Baltimore City.
The purpose of this post is to re-route 1 Route 1 with the goal of connecting Washington Boulevard to Belair Road. This will be a one way Northbound connection while southbound will go via North Avenue and Monroe St. between Belair Road and Washington Boulevard. To start this transformation, I will switch the monikers when the splits off in Halethorpe. Southwestern Boulevard will now be known as "Alt Route 1" and Washington Boulevard will simply remain "Route 1."
Currently, Washington Boulevard loses its Route 1 moniker after its intersection with Monroe St. Washington Boulevard will now remain as Route 1 all the way through Pigtown. Currently when Washington Boulevard meets MLK Boulevard, all traffic must turn onto MLK since Washington Boulevard is a one way Southbound St. between Paca St. and MLK. I will turn Washington Boulevard into a one way Northbound St. between Paca St, and MLK to continue Route 1 as a straight shot though the City Northbound.
Washington Boulevard ends rather unceremoniously at Russell St. and Pratt. St. Now that Washington Boulevard is a northbound one way street through Ridgely's Delight, Route 1 can continue on down Pratt St until it meets Gay St. just past the Harbor. Gay St. ends at Old Town Mall and blends into Ensor St. currently. It used to continue through Old Town Mall and connect to the other end of Gay St. at Broadway. I will dedicate another post on how to execute rebuilding and reconnecting Gay St. Gay St. ultimately meets North Avenue and on the other side of North Avenue becomes Belair Road and regains the Route 1 moniker. The entire length of Gay St., once rebuilt will once again employ the Route 1 moniker.  
Now I'm sure you're wondering why rerouting Route 1 is necessary. I believe that giving it a more homogeneous path will allow for further reinvestment and redevelopment in the Neighborhoods it travels through. I also believe that traffic on more congested routes in the City may experience relief if more cars recognized the rerouted Route 1 as a viable path.    

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Baltimore's New East Side: The Next Phase

The redevelopment of East Baltimore by Hopkins has been controversial to say the least. Those still living in the distressed Neighborhood thought that re-populating the vacant blocks in its existing state would be better than tearing it all down. Since the intended land use of many of these blocks were not meant to be row homes anymore, redevelopment beat out preservation.
The origins of this redevelopment began with Hopkins' intention to build a Biotech Park north of its Hospital. In order to attract start up firms, Hopkins decided that the surrounding Neighborhood, which was distressed 30% vacant, had to be revitalized to make it a draw for its workers. The City applauded Hopkins efforts and allowed them to move forward with their plan. Block after block of vacant row homes were torn down in favor of mixed use development from Residential, Commercial, Retail, and Medical Uses. All and all, between 1200-1500 new and rehabbed homes would flank the blocks north of Hopkins.
The mid 2000s saw a flurry of demolition and redevelopment. The new East Baltimore was beginning to take shape. In 2008, like all other development in Baltimore and every City in the Country the economy crashing put the brakes on it. A few new Apartment Buildings and a block of new town homes became the only new development that Hopkins had to show for despite all the demolition. Not only that, the large Biotech Park that was to be the cornerstone of the new East Baltimore began needing smaller and smaller amounts of lab space while some companies pulled out all together.
As the 2000s became the 2010s, not much had changed on the development front. The vacant lots remained vacant and the vacant row homes also remained vacant. The vitality of the development was also questioned many times since the project had stalled completely. This was not uncommon because multiple large projects throughout the City had stalled during this time and their vitality was questioned. In some cases, the vitality is still being questioned and these projects have yet to get off the ground.
Obviously this sent Hopkins planners back to the drawing board as they had too much invested to see this fail. Some of the land meant to house Biotech Offices and Labs were developed as Apartments meant to lure in Med Students studying at the Hospital. A Walgreens has opened on the ground floor of this building. In addition, a 15 story mixed use building housing a Marriott Residence Inn and ground floor Retail space is under construction next door to the new Apartments. That same block is currently housing "Eager Park" which provides a park like oasis in the middle of the Hopkins Complex.
On the Residential side of things, the vacant blocks of Eager St. which have come to represent the stalled nature of the project, are finally seeing sign of life as well. Mostly, they will be developed as mixed income town homes but the swaths if land closer to the Hospital will be Apartments. Perhaps the crown & jewel of this new Neighborhood has been the Hopkins-Henderson Elementary School. Given how scarce School Construction has been in the City, it's nice to see that Hopkins has stepped in to help build a brand new School for the City and replace the aging Elmer A. Henderson Elementary which had been this area's local School.
Although new construction has been picking up, I would like to point out what I consider to be the more remarkable transformation; Rehabs. To keep the traditional row house nature of East Baltimore alive in the midst of redevelopment, Hopkins has allowed blocks of row homes that are salvageable to be gutted and rehabbed. Rehabbed row homes have quietly been bought up and are being occupied by new owners along Broadway, Chase St., Preston St., McDounogh St., and Gay St.
What's even more exciting is that row homes outside of the Hopkins Redevelopment area are getting rehabbed as a result. Broadway north of the area, Preston St. and Caroline St. west of the area and the Milton-Montford area east of the area has been dubbed "Station East." These outside rehab blocks show that private investment and ownership is on the rise and that the Hopkins Redevelopment is creating a "Tentacle Effect" reaching beyond its boundaries.
Since East Baltimore is considered a "Food Desert", this next project is all the more exciting. At the abandoned Eastern Pumping Station just north of the Hopkins Redevelopment area, will be a Food Hub. This will create jobs for the area as well as fresh food. In addition to the jobs and job training offered, much of this currently vacant land will become a much needed urban farm.
Although it may have been long stalled, East Baltimore has entered its next phase. Although there are many good things on the book for East Baltimore, this surely isn't the last phase of large scale redevelopment and reinvestment to create Baltimore's New East Side.