Sunday, December 31, 2017

What's New in the Few Blocks Around the Harbor Part II North and East

This post wasn't meant to be a two parter. However, when I began writing the first one I realized that I had enough material for two posts. So here we are at part II. Part I dealt solely with the areas south and west of the Harbor. This time we will be focusing on the areas north and east of it. I will omit the large developments that are making all the big headlines such as Inner Harbor East and Harbor Point. That being said, lets get started.
First there's Della Notte. This shuttered Restaurant at the entrance of Little Italy at the corner of President St. and Eastern Avenue has been slated for redevelopment for a couple of years now. Little Italy has been and continues to be a tight knit community of historic row homes and independently owned restaurants. Fortunately, the Della Notte building is not in one of the blocks of historic row homes. That's why it's OK that the building is being torn down in favor of a mixed use high rise. The latest version of this high rise is 23 stories tall with 380 units and 8,000 square feet of ground floor Retail.
There have been rumors of another high rise coming to an unnamed block of Little Italy. I hope it's the northeastern block of President St. since that block is an unsightly surface lot which gives President St. a less welcoming environment. President St. needs to be more pedestrian friendly and be used an attractive connecting point between Pratt St. and its more southern Neighbors of Little Italy and Inner Harbor East.
Next there's Piers V and VI. There had been and may still be rumors that the First Mariner Arena would build its venue right at these Piers. It's true that the First Mariner Arena needs to be redeveloped and that its location in Downtown's Westside has made it less competitive as so much new development in Baltimore has been by the Harbor and you can't get much closer to the Harbor than Piers V and VI. I personally think the site is too small for a venue and that the City should look elsewhere when redeveloping First Mariner Arena. Stay tuned for futures posts regarding this subject as I have ideas floating around. 
Next we come to 400 E. Pratt. St. This building is the first in the beginning of the revitalization of Pratt St. Pratt St. along the Inner Harbor had up until now been mostly Office Buildings and Hotels. In addition, the sidewalks are very wide and makes what little Retail offerings there were seem inaccessible. 400 E. Pratt St. remedied this by doing a Retail "bump out" in which a two story addition to the existing was built out of the original building towards Prat St. and was very successful in attracting new Retail tenants such as Shake Shack, CVS, and Chick Fillet among others. I hope this concept will be used for the TransAmerica building a few blocks over.
Next there's the surface parking that makes up 300 E. Pratt St. This block has had many proposals for high rises to replace the very out of place surface lot. Given that the rent on Pratt St. is among the highest in the Country hasn't helped in getting tenants to pre-sign leases. That being said, the current pan is to build a 48-50 story high rise on the site that's a mixture of Residential and Hotel Space with Ground Floor Retail. Residential has been virtually unused in this stretch of Pratt St. so it's interesting that this component is being introduced and I hope to see it built.
Next there's the Gallery sometimes known as the Galleria at 200 E. Pratt St. The part that faces Pratt St. is a mid rise whose first four floors are an indoor shopping mall while upper floors are part of the Renaissance Inner Harbor Hotel. In the back of the building is a sky scraper with Office Space. The fourth floor of the shopping mall portion of the Gallery is being transformed from Retail to Office Space. It is unknown at this time what changes if any will take place on the remaining three floors of the Mall.
Next we come to the Bank of America Center (not to be confused with the Historic Bank of America Building) located at 100 W. Pratt St. This Office Building will be following the example of 400 E. Pratt St. by getting a Retail "bump out" of its own. I remember parking at this building's underground garage and getting off the elevator in the lobby and I couldn't help notice how sparse it was. It had a small interior food court with a couple open eateries and a couple vacant one along with a newsstand. There was no way to entice outsiders to come in and patronize these businesses. I had been hoping that a Retail bump out would come to this building and hopefully by doing so it will encourage similar projects.
Next we come to  the McKeldin Fountain which is located between Light St. and Calvert St. and their intersection with Pratt St. This fountain to say the least was ugly. It was made of pure concrete and was hardly ever turned on. It had the same brutalist design as the Convention Center and the now demolished Mechanic Opera House. The McKeldin fountain, which will be demolished like the Mechanic Opera House. It will be replaced with a pocket park with lush green landscape as part of a larger project that will add more greenery to the Inner Harbor.
Last but not least we come to Harborplace. These two pavilion Shopping Malls are the epitome of the rebirth of the Inner Harbor in 1980. Had it not been for Harborplace, the widespread redevelopment on all sides of the Harbor may not have been so quick and/or dramatic. However, like any building it can be grow old and begin to look tired. This is why the Pratt St. pavilion is undergoing a major renovation. The renovation will include turning the first floor from a Shopping Mall to four large Retail spaces while the second floor will keep its Shopping Mall Routes. Banana Republic will move from the Gallery to fill one of these spaces. The Light St. Pavilion is also undergoing major renovations but it is less clear as to what the finished product will be.
As more development continues away from the Inner Harbor there's the always the possibility that those very developments are draining the vitality of the Inner Harbor itself. That's why it is crucial to make sure that development around the Harbor continues to keep the core of it just as modern and sought after as development hot spots in the City.   

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

What's New In the Few Blocks Around the Harbor Part I South and West

For redevelopment in Baltimore, almost all of it has been made possible by the Inner Harbor and its revitalization in 1980 by the opening of Harbor Place followed by the homesteading in Otterbein, Federal Hill, and eventually water front redevelopment in Canton, Inner Harbor East, and Locust Point. Although the Inner Harbor redevelopment has spread like wildfire, it's always good to check up on the area immediately surrounding the Harbor itself to keep it as current as the new developments it inspired. This post new will examine new developments that are taking place within a block or two of the Harbor itself.
First there's the biggest or should I say tallest project; 414 Light St. this new glass skyscraper located at the very visible Light St. and Conway St. intersection has always been a gateway in and out of the City. It originally was part of the McCormick spice plant which moved to Hunt Valley. Between then and now, it has served as a very expensive surface parking lot. Developers have had plans for years to construct a skyscraper on this property but the economy hasn't allowed for it. Developers have waited patiently until they could secure the necessary funds and the development climate was such that development could commence.
Next there's Banner Hill Apartments. This is being built on the grounds where the University of Maryland Specialty Hospital had stood on S. Charles St. This hospital had been shut down long ago and its building sat vacant ever since. It was torn down in favor of Banner Hill Apartments in order to bring life to S. Charles St., Otterbein, and a link between Conway St. and South Baltimore. At the moment, Otterbein has relatively few Apartments consisting mostly of the old $1 row houses and some newer infill town homes. The new Banner Hill Apartments will certainly be easier on the eye as compared to the shuttered Hospital.
Next there's the redevelopment of rash field. A big hurdle that rash field has faced has been its popularity and the fact that there's very little parking for it. The solution, has been a multi level parking garage under the field. Although I believe this will solve the problem, this has brought the price tag up to $40 million. Obtaining funds for this has proven difficult but I believe it is necessary as the Harbor Promenade needs as much functional green recreational space as possible.   
Next there's the project known as Bainbridge Federal Hill. This will be located on a narrow on Key Highway just in front of Digital Harbor High School. Although this will mostly be Apartments, developers have opted to include town homes for the ground units facing Key Highway. This project has been controversial to say the least given the lot's size and the intrusion the building will have on the surrounding Neighborhood.
Next there's the ongoing development of Harborview built on the land that was originally the Bethlehem Steel Shipyard. The lone high rise of Harborview known as Harborview Towers has been joined by other components of the development including low rise Condos, Town homes, and "Pier Homes." These additional pieces of the development are not the entire development. There are still buildings of varying heights that have yet to be built. The two buildings that will be built first are Pinnacle I & II both located at the intersection of Key Highway and Pierside Drive. Pinnacle I will be considered a high rise though not as tall as Harborview Towers while Pinnacle II will be a low to mid rise building. The buildings will be narrow offering panoramic views in all directions. There are still more buildings proposed for Harborview each located on surface parking lots on either side of Little Havana. The new buildings have promised not to obstruct the views of the Harbor from Federal Hill Residents.
Next we come to what has been known as Federal Hill Town Homes. This development has become the epitome of the economic downturn of the mid to late 2000s. About half of the four level town homes were built then and were slow selling making the rest of the development stall. Finally in the last couple of years, the remaining home have begun to be built. However instead of four level town homes in order to make them more affordable have become two over two town homes of two levels each. This should make the last few units sell quicker.
Next we come to the General Shipyard Repair Corporation. This is one of the last remaining vestiges of the once industrial Key Highway but the owners have sold their land to a developer who plans to build an Apartment Building with ground floor Retail. Whether the building will be low or high rise is still to be determined. General Shipyard Repair Corporation is currently shopping for a new location and is hoping to stay at the Port of Baltimore.
Finally we come to Key Highway in between Woodall and Stevenson St. This thin swath of land currently has a few small vacant industrial buildings with row homes behind them. The plan is to put an Office Building at this site. Personally, I find an Office Building to be intrusive for that small site and would rather add town homes to it that fit into scale with the older row homes that are already there. These plans are still in their infancy so I'm unsure what will come to fruition.
As the gentrification caused by the Inner Harbor continues to spread across the City, we mustn't allow the Inner Harbor itself to become dated. Fortunately, there are many new development projects right at  the front door of the Inner Harbor which should keep it viable for years to come.     

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.