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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.  

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.