Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Sit On It: 2017 Edition

Back in the depths of the recession, I wrote a post called "Sit On It." The idea of that post was that developers who owned land for development and redevelopment projects needed to hold off or "Sit On" their investments until the market turned around and their plans would once again become feasible. Today, the market has turned around and is responding nicely to new development of all uses in Baltimore. However, the sheer volume of development proposals coming down the pipeline might allow for an excess of space if all done at once. So despite the development friendly climate, some developers will have to "Sit On It" in 2017.
In 2017 many recently completed or under construction projects with a variety of uses are going to flood the market if they haven't already. These projects include but aren't limited to; Stadium Square, Port Covington, Hopkins/East Baltimore, 414 Light St., 10 Light St., McHenry Point Phase II, The Rotunda, Harbor Point, Harborview, Inner Harbor East, Marketplace at Fells Point, Bank of America Building Retail, Banner Hill Apartments, Cross Street Market Redevelopment, Della Note Site, 300 E. Prat St., and Anthem House Apartments. This is a lot of new development going up in a very short time in very small place. That being said, there are many more proposals around these same areas that aren't under construction yet. These are great proposals and had there been less competing developments, I would say full speed ahead. Alas, these additional developers have to "Sit On It."
The first development is State Center. I'm aware that Larry unilaterally pulled the plug on this development but if it should be resurrected, the developers should still sit on it. Since the existing State Office Buildings are falling apart, I think the State Offices should move out of those Buildings and into vacant Office space throughout Downtown. When the market turns around, the development should be re-visited and McCulloh Homes should be redeveloped with State Center.
Next we have the Edison Properties. Currently this is nothing but surface parking lots. This could easily be an eastbound expansion of Downtown going towards Hopkins. It would be very doubtful that any development would occur on the Edison Properties until the JFX is dismantled and it can be linked to Downtown.
Next, we have the parcel of land surrounded by Guilford Avenue, Holiday St, and Saratoga St. This is also a surface parking lot that is poised for a mixed use development. You may recognize this parcel from my 2008 "Sit On It" post and although it's a prime parcel in Downtown, it's still not the right time to pursue it.
Next we come to the Mechanic Opera House. This ugly building had been shuttered and was finally demolished. At the moment the developer is embroiled in lawsuits which is currently halting the mixed use tower that is proposed for this site at Baltimore St. and Charles St. This may be a blessing in disguise since the market is swarmed with projects similar to this.
Another Sit On It development is Old Town Mall and Somerset Homes. I've written extensively on this area and I don't believe any redevelopment can occur until Gay St. is restored as a one way northbound street for vehicular traffic. Somerset Homes on the other hand, probably will remain a vacant plot of land until Old Town Mall is redeveloped. Like the Edison Properties, Old Town Mall is east of the JFX so any redevelopment that occurs should also be done after the JFX is dismantled.
Now we come to 25th St. Station. This development was flawed from the start. Its aim was to bring "Big Box Retail" to the Charles Village/Remington area at the site of the closed Anderson Automotive Car Dealership. Its anchors were to be Lowes and Wal Mart with junior anchors akin to Staples and Ana's Linens. Lowes pulled out and the project was re-worked with Wal Mart as the soul anchor. Residents did not want a Wal Mart in their neighborhood so it too was removed from the plans. Although this is prime land, the future of 25th St. Station is unknown. Like other development projects on this list, it's located in an area that's surrounding by new development and investment so even if there were real plans, the developers should Sit On It.
The Convention Center Redevelopment. Although a newer larger and modernized Convention Center is desperately needed, the plans for mixed use around and above it are a little too far gone at the moment. This might have to be a phased redevelopment where the new Convention Center is built and can begin re-booking Cons that have left the City in favor of other Venues while the larger picture of mixed use around and above it could be done in the future. This could be done similarly to the Four Seasons at Inner Harbor East.
Harborview Lots 6 &7. The Harborview high rise once stood as the lone representation of redevelopment on the key highway waterfront. Since the early 2000s that has changed as Harborview has added town homes, low rise Condos and the planned "Pinnacle at Harborview" mid rise and high rise towers. Unbeknownst to many, the addition of the Pinnacle buildings are not the final buildings for Harborview. On either side of the Little Havana, there are surface level parking lots that will eventually become high rises that will complete the Harborview Development. It has been promised that these buildings will not obstruct water water front views from Clement St., Webster St., and Anchor St. Given the flurry of current construction along Key Highway, it's easy to see that the Harborview Developers will have to continue to "Sit On" Lots 6&7.
Finally there's the Pepsi Bottling Co. The sign on the JFX has become an iconic landmark for drivers coming and going from Downtown for decades. However, it appears that plant's days soon be numbered as the Development firm Himmelrich and Associates has purchased the land that the plant sits on and intends to turn into mixed use anchored by a Harris Teeter. If done right, this will complement the Mills in this area that have recently been rehabbed beautifully as mixed use. Given this site's proximity to all of these Mills and new Town Homes under construction in Hampden, I'm afraid Himmelrich might have to "Sit On" this development a little longer. They're actually doing just that as Pepsi is renting the site back to them until further notice.
It's great that after a recession that brought investment and development in Baltimore to a grinding halt in 2008 has begun to pick up steam again and the City is seeing new development again. Developers seem to be making up for time lost during the recession as developments are coming down the pipeline at break neck speed one after the other. In order for the market to be able to absorb all of this development though, some Developers will just have to "Sit On It" until further notice.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Greater Lexington Market: Finally Its Own Superblock

Perhaps the second most challenged part of Downtown's Westside is Lexington Market. The honor of being first goes to the "Super Block" of course. For decades, there have been ideas to improve the public market and its surrounding areas and most if not all of them have fallen flat. Lately, there have been initiatives to reinvest in or redevelop public markets in the City. The one that's been getting the most news has been Cross Street Market in Federal Hill. There are also plans going through the pipe line to redevelop or revamp Hollins Market and Broadway Market. Lexington Market originally would be getting a $2 Million Face Lift.
Now Lexington Market may finally be getting the chance it so desperately needs. Plans are now on the books (but funding isn't) to completely redevelop the market. The price tag for this tear down and rebuild is estimated at $40 million, a far cry from giving the existing building a face lift at a mere $2 million. When this part of the City is given a gift like this, it requires thinking big. If Baltimore is getting a brand new Lexington Market, what will that mean for its surroundings? Will the demand for other uses go up? I personally believe so, and I think the four square blocks immediately surrounding the market deserve a master plan so that they may be redeveloped and/or rehabbed as the Lexington Market Superblock.
The Center Point for this new Super Block will be the intersection of Lexington and Paca St. and will have the borders of Greene St, to the west, Fayette St. to the south, Eutaw St. to the east and Saratoga St. to the north. The current redevelopment plan involves building a brand new building just south of the current one, extending Lexington St. between Paca and Eutaw St. and putting in a park where the current building stands. Although I largely support this plan especially the park since this part of the City severely lacks green space, I don't feel that extending Lexington St. would be appropriate as this separates the market from the park. I would like to see the two linked together without a major thoroughfare separating them.
Just south of Lexington Market in the 400 block of Fayette St., demolition crews are making way for another redevelopment project. This will help bridge the current perceived gap between UMB and Lexington Market. The planned building, called "University Lofts" will feature 230 market rate Apartments in a 12 story building with ground floor Retail. The 500 block of Fayette and the 100 block of Greene St. has been handsomely rehabbed and redeveloped as "University Square at Fayette Courts." No further work needs to be done in this area of the Lexington Market Super Block.
The south side of the 500 block of Lexington St. and the west side of the 100 block of Paca St. are both in need of investment. Given that these are buildings are traditional row house style architecture that appear to be in relatively decent shape, I don't see a need for demolition and redevelopment. Instead, I envision these buildings being rehabbed completely and the end product resembling the newly rehabbed 300 and 400 blocks of W. Baltimore St.
Perhaps the most dramatic transformation of this Super Block is the northwestern end of it. This is currently a very short parking garage with a few Retail bays scattered throughout it. Before the economy crashed, there plans to build three high rise Apartment and Condo Buildings with 100 units each and 23 town homes over top of the existing garage. The ill-fated development was to be known as "The Residences at Lexington Market." Originally, I was all for reviving this very ambitious project.
Although bringing new Residences to the area is something that is desperately needed, I would like to revamp the plans and bring something to the area that I think will better complement what is already there and what is proposed to go there. Rather than keeping the short parking garage, I would demolish the whole thing and start from scratch. Since this particular area doesn't have high rises, I would prefer something mid-rise in the 5-7 story range. Although this new Residential building will have a parking garage, I would like to see the building wrapped around it. ground floor Retail will be present along the Lexington and Paca St. sides while the ground floor Saratoga and Greene St. will remain Residential. I envision the end result something akin to the new Jefferson Square at Washington Hill Apartments.
The final part of the Super Block is the 400 block of Saratoga St. more specifically the south side. and the 200 block of Eutaw St. Currently this block is dilapidated row house Retail. I personally think the new Lexington Market should have a Hotel attached to it and the front of this new Hotel should located on Saratoga St. in the 400 block as well as the 200 block of Eutaw St. The existing parking garage will stay and will provide parking for both the market and the Hotel.
Although this covers the reinvestment and redevelopment of the Lexington Market Super Block, there are still numerous areas around these blocks that can and should benefit from it. Examples include but aren't limited to Saratoga St. east of Paca St. and the west side of the 200 block of Greene St. both of which are surface parking lots. The Lexington Market redevelopment currently only includes the market itself. When looked at comprehensively as a Super Block, it shows that four surrounding blocks and then some are ripe for reinvestment and redevelopment to complement the Market itself.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Howard & Franklin: The New Superblock

News on the development front concerning the Super Block has non existent or has been filled with setbacks that has left little for the Super Block. There are those that say that entire Westside of Downtown's revitalization efforts hinge on the Super Block. There are also those that say that the Westside should continue revitalization efforts throughout the area which will in turn add value and developer interest to the Super Block.
My approach favors the latter. If the Super Block isn't feasible right now, lets focus on what is feasible. By doing so, I have found that not only have there been recent successes throughout the Westside, but there are many redevelopment projects coming down the pipeline. The ones I would like to focus on are centered around Howard St. and Franklin St. This currently desolate block(s) has seen lots of developer interest as of late. So much so that I have deemed it "The New Super Block."
Like any Super Block, the area in question covers four square blocks that Howard and Franklin is smack dab in the middle. The actual area covered is Eutaw St. to the west, Centre St. to the north, Park Ave to the east, and Mulberry St. to the south. This area is actually a very important chunk of land as far as what's in its proximity. It has Mount Vernon to the east, historic Seton Hill to the west, Lexington Market to the south, and Bolton Hill and State Center to the north. The light rail runs right down Howard St. and both the Subway and MARC lines nearby.
So what new development is going on around Howard and Franklin? At the southwestern corner 50 Apartments above ground floor Retail is planned. The remaining facades along Howard St. will remain but buildings along Franklin St. will be demolished. Given the lack of clean affordable housing in the area, the Developer wants to keep rents affordable for local Teachers and Firefighters who may not have been able to afford to live Downtown otherwise. This new development will stretch from Franklin St. to Mulberry St. on the east side of Howard St.
On the southwest side of  Howard and Franklin there is already a small glimmer of hope. An old building has been rehabbed as "St. James Place Apartments" and has a Remax Real Estate Office on the ground floor. Heading southbound on Howard St. towards Mulberry St., the buildings are still boarded up however. Fortunately there is developer interest in 400 N. Howard which is at the northwest corner of Howard and Mulberry. With that building rehabbed as mixed use with Retail on the ground floor and Apartments above, the remaining buildings on the west side of the 400 block of Howard St. between St. James Place Apartments and 400 N. Howard will begin to see reinvestment and redevelopment.
The northwest corner of Howard and Franklin is currently seeing some demolition. The old Franklin-Delphey Hotel is hitting the wrecking ball. It is currently unclear what will go in its place but the building's dilapidated condition has made it impossible to preserve. Also in the 500 block of Howard St. just north of the now demolished Franklin-Delphey is the long vacated Mayfair Theater. When I think of the crumbling theater, it becomes a symbol of all the blight the Westside of Downtown has suffered over the years. However, despite its decades of neglect, it's still a beautiful building. Fortunately, historic preservationists think so too and the front facade must be saved if and when any redevelopment project occurs. Next to the Mayfair is success story; the Old Western High School was transformed to the Chesapeake Commons Apartments.
The northeastern block of Franklin and Howard is currently undergoing the most profound transformation of the Howard-Franklin "Super Block" This block currently contains the old Hoschild-Kohn Furniture warehouse at 520 Park Avenue which has been rehabbed into the mixed use called 520 Park. The remainder of this block had currently been a surface lot. Right now, a new mixed use building is under construction known as 500 Park. Although the front of this building faces Park Avenue, it will provide revitalization for the entire block including the northeastern corner of Howard and Franklin.
This particular development is slated bridge the gap between the Westside of Downtown and Mount Vernon. The western edge of Mount Vernon is made up of mostly residences and very little retail which limits the amount of foot traffic in the area. With projects like 520 Park and 500 Park, foot traffic will increase between Mount Vernon and Downtown's Westside.
Since the "Super Block" of Howard and Franklin encompasses four square blocks, there are parts of these blocks in question that may not have frontage to Howard and Franklin but I would still like to see reinvestment or redevelopment done on behalf of the "Super Block." This includes the 400 and 500 blocks of Eutaw St. The 400 block would be the redevelopment of the out of place "Mulberry Courts" into Row House/Retail. This same concept would be used for the 500 block which is currently a surface parking lot behind the old Mayfair Theater and is next to the Old Congress Hotel.
 Although the original Super Block is at a standstill, that doesn't mean that new development in the Westside of Downtown has to be as well. There are numerous other "Super Blocks" throughout the area that can bring the Westside on par with the rest of Downtown and connect it to Mount Vernon. Today, that Super Block is at Howard and Franklin.              

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.