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.  

Monday, October 17, 2016

East North Avenue: A Haven for Investment

North Avenue has been in the news a lot lately for representing all that's wrong with Baltimore and urban America as a whole. I'd like to take this opportunity to tell show all the potential the eastern end of North Avenue has to become a thriving community. There are many hidden gems hidden throughout East North Avenue and surrounding areas that can help lead the way to a great future. There are also many pitfalls in the area which I would like to turn around and make the gems they rightfully should be. In order to do that, East North Avenue must be a haven for investment.
Nothing is more helpful to a disinvested Community than reinvestment. It shows its citizens that the City hasn't forgotten about them. The end result is a nicer Community! East North Avenue doesn't have very many of these examples but there is a big one happening along the road itself; streetscape enhancements. On North Avenue between Harford Road and Washington St. a $2 Million grant has been given to repave the road, redo the sidewalks, put crosswalks in the intersections, upgrade lighting, replace traffic lights, and add pedestrian signals. This is a great start for these blocks but I think the streetscape enhancement areas should be expanded in both directions. Westbound to Greenmount Avenue and Eastbound to Baltimore Cemetery.
East North Avenue has some investment coming its way and doesn't even know it. For instance, as part of Hopkins Redevelopment project in Middle East, many blocks north of Hopkins along Broadway are seeing their long vacant row homes rehabbed and sold. This trend of reinvestment is making its way towards North Avenue. What I would like to see is something I call a "tentacle effect" where northbound streets have reinvestment trending northward to North Avenue. More specifically Gay St. and Harford Avenue.
Along North Avenue, I don't want there to be too much demolition. Although redevelopment will occur, I would like that to be on land that is already vacant. Given the success stories of rehabbing row homes in other parts of East Baltimore, I would like to see the same happen along North Avenue. I do however, have a couple of redevelopment zones in mind for East North Avenue which as I noted above, are areas where demolition has already occurred.

A big area of redevelopment will be on Gay. St. The southern most blocks of Gay St. are included in the Hopkins redevelopment and blocks closer to North Avenue, the American Brewery Building has been lovely restored and across the street, a new Senior Center has just been built. In between those areas however, are several vacant and almost vacant blocks along Gay St. Since new mixed income town homes have done well in other parts of East Baltimore, I'm proposing several new blocks of housing along Gay St. and surrounding blocks to further the "tentacle effect."
The other redevelopment area also includes Gay St. but this section is above North Ave. There are some vacant industrial areas with a few vacant row houses strewn about the area bordered by North Avenue, Collington Avenue, Sinclair Lane, and Gay St. A redevelopment project of this magnitude will change the entire landscape of the eastern end of the North Avenue. The new development will contain mostly new row homes as well as row house style Apartments with ground floor Retail where there's North Avenue Frontage.
Although some redevelopment is included for E. North Avenue, the vast majority of the population growth I would like to see is from reinvestment in the current housing stock. Further south, around Hopkins, there are incentives for Hopkins workers to buy in the area. I would like to repeat that incentive model for E. North Ave. Instead of Hospital workers, this time I would provide it for workers of Social Services and the Eastside District Courthouse. There are other distressed areas of the City that don't have much in the way of nearby employment areas. E. North Avenue has this advantage and the Community can further sustain itself if nearby workers became nearby Residents.
Another aspect of E. North Avenue I want to promote is focal points. These focal points will draw visitors into the area and help promote a welcoming environment. One of the best assets of the area is the newly rehabbed Columbus School. The Great Blacks in Wax Museum is also great draw to the area but I believe exterior facade renovations will help achieve focal point status as well.
The old Ashley Apartments are a focal point but for all the wrong reasons. The vacancy and decay of this architectural diamond in the rough show just how beautiful the area once was. Due to the size and historic nature of the building, the cost of restoring and rehabbing this building will be very high. This poses a problem to E. North Avenue because it hinders development in its current state but developers won't want to invest a red cent in it until the surrounding Neighborhood makes big improvements. The uses of a rehabbed Ashley Apartment building are endless. With that in mind, I'm proposing mixed use Retail/Office/Community/Residential and make it a focal point for all the right reasons.
As development in Hopkins and Station North continues, a comprehensive next step must be taken in order to keep the synergy of those areas going. E. North Avenue is the logical next step to connect these two areas. By marketing E. North Avenue as a haven for investment it will then become just that; A Haven for Investment.    

Sunday, July 24, 2016

West Baltimore St. Has Zest

During the initial stages of the Westside of Downtown's revitalization, there was a slogan being used known as The West Has Zest! Sadly a slogan is just that, a slogan and just saying that the West has Zest doesn't make it true. It is indeed true that for the most part, the West does NOT have Zest. I did however find a small area of the Westside that does in fact gave Zest; Baltimore St. the 300 and 400 blocks to be more specific. This begs the question on what was done right on Baltimore St. and how that can be duplicated to bring Zest to all the West.
So lets now focus on why W. Baltimore St. has zest. There are many reasons but the ones that stick out to me are that the buildings in good enough shape were gutted and rehabbed from the ground up, it's very close to UMB, the Hippodrome, and Camden Yards, and there is a critical mass of people in the area. There is also a high rise mixed use building under construction on W. Baltimore St. under construction that will only add to the critical mass of feet on the ground needed to sustain a Downtown.
Unlike my previous post on Charles North, the Westside of Downtown will need new high rises to sustain itself. In fact, the very street that this post focuses on (W. Baltimore St.) has a new high rise under construction at the writing of the post. I think of West Baltimore St. as its own little sub-district within Downtown's Westside. In order to bring Zest to the rest of the Westside, I'm going to develop five additional sub-districts like W. Baltimore St. further act like catalysts.
The first sub-district, like W. Baltimore St. already has Zest. I'm talking of course about the University of Maryland Baltimore Campus. The campus has grown considerably in the past 15-20 years with new buildings replacing old ones. However, the campus (including the University of Maryland Medical Center) stops at Fayette St. and it appears there's an invisible line that Students appear not to cross. My solution would be to create student housing with ground floor Retail and upper floor Residences along Greene St., Paca St., and Eutaw St. between Fayette St. and Lexington St. which will connect the University to Lexington Market.
The second sub-district is Lexington Market itself. Lexington Market could really use a shot in the arm in terms of its surroundings. The market itself will be undergoing a massive renovation in the coming months which should be helpful. However, the surrounding area remains untouched. Before the economy crashed, there were plans to build three high rise Apartment and Condo Buildings over top of a small parking garage directly across Paca St. from Lexington Market. I think this project needs to be re-opened and ultimately built to increase density and Residences by Lexington Market.
On Paca St., just below Lexington Market is a small surface parking lot. I would like to see a transit hub built here with a mid rise Hotel above it. If Lexington Market is to be a world class destination, it deserves a Hotel right next to, if not attached to it. On the north side of Saratoga St. just east of Paca St., lies another surface parking lot which I believe should house offices on the upper floors and Retail on the ground floor. Both of these new buildings will feature underground parking. Also in the Lexington Market sub-district is yet another surface parking lot on the west side of Greene St. below Saratoga St. This should be the site of a high rise mixed use Residential building. The boarded up row house Retail on the 600 block of Lexington St. will have to be demolished to make way for this new building.    
The third sub-district is Howard St. between Lexington St. and Centre St. I have purposely omitted the "Super Block" for this post since it's its own monster. This stretch of Howard St. has some beautiful historic buildings that are predominantly vacant and boarded up. There are a few Retail stores still open on the ground floor of these buildings but their upper floor windows are either boarded up, filled with cinder blocks, or gone from the facade all together. This is a shame because these blocks of buildings could make for a gorgeous little village in the middle of Downtown if restored right.
My plan for these blocks of Howard St. is to do just that. The style and height of the buildings along this section of Howard St. mimic that of the 300 & 400 blocks of W. Baltimore St. that have been so handsomely revitalized and are the inspiration for this post. One could say that these blocks of Howard St. have more continuous buildings than the 300 & 400 blocks of W. Baltimore St. since those blocks do have redevelopment in them. I would restore all the buildings to their original grandeur with ground floor Retail and more importantly, Apartments above to help achieve feet on the ground in these currently desolate blocks of Howard St.
The fourth sub-district is Franklin St.and the blocks surrounding it. I've never noticed before but Franklin St. has a decent number of surface parking lots that if developed, it will spur reinvestment and redevelopment of existing buildings. Between Howard St. and Park Avenue there sits the former Hoschild Kohn furniture building has been restored to the 520 Park Apartments. I think a new Condo Building with Franklin St. frontage with a height similar to the existing 520 Park Apartments. Another similar building with Offices instead of Condos will be built on Howard St. just below Centre St.
I would have loved to save the Mayfair Theatre or at least the marquis but decades of neglect and a recent fire have made that impossible. Any new development at the Mayfair will see that entire building torn down. Luckily the old Congress Hotel has been restored and is now home to the Baltimore Ethical Society. In that block, I would propose building a mixed use building that has frontage on Franklin St., Howard St., and Eutaw St to complete the block. Just below Franklin St. on Park Avenue sits some dilapidated row house Retail. I would have that redeveloped along with the surface lot adjacent to it as new row house Retail with functioning Apartments above it.
The fifth and final sub-district consists of one behemoth building; the vacant Social Security building. This building is super-block within itself and is ugly, over-sized and most likely can not be reused. In addition to the building's design woes, the eastern end of the road to nowhere impedes on it. With that being said, I obviously want to knock it down and start from scratch. What I don't know, is how redevelop it. I assume it will be several buildings of very density and heights. The road to Nowhere bridges will have to be torn-down in conjunction to revise the traffic patterns on Franklin and Mulberry Streets as well as MLK Boulevard. The end result. whatever it may be needs to act as a gateway to Downtown from West Baltimore and vice versa as well as a gateway between Seton Hill and Downtown.
Bringing Zest to the Westside of Downtown will be an uphill battle but the rebirth of the 300 & 400 blocks of West Baltimore St. shows that it can be done with the correct mix of stores and new and old buildings. I don't know is Zest can return to the other sub-districts I mentioned but I can say that West Baltimore St. has Zest.