Monday, February 28, 2011

Convention Center:Take Cues from 1st Mariner and the Mechanic

The Baltimore Convention Center arguably was the first building marking the renaissance of the Inner Harbor. Having been built in 1979 it predates Harbor Place by one year. It has been expanded several times in its 32 year lifespan adding much needed space. Its location at Howard, Charles, Pratt, and Conway Sts cannot be beaten. Hanover St. runs under it as part of an expansion project. Its footprint encompasses two city blocks and rather than building up for a taller building, its construction went further down into the ground.
It also does a great job in connecting itself to its surrounding buildings for pedestrians via sky walks. So what's my gripe? It's ugly and it doesn't take advantage of its prime location like it could and should. The Convention Center is not alone in its small height, lack of ground floor amenities, and dated design. It is however alone in the fact that aren't any redevelopment plans for it. Both the First Mariner Arena and the Mechanic Opera House are in the same situation but redevelopment interest of both of those properties is a very real possibility. I would say in a better economy I would call it a certainty. But what about the Convention Center, better yet how can such a project be done without Baltimore losing out on Convention Revenue during construction?
As early as 2004 talks for the redevelopment of 1st Mariner Arena have dominated local head lines but little to no action has been taken. At first the City and developers have been scouting out locations for a new Arena and redeveloping the existing site as either Apartments or Offices. Then, in 2008 it was determined that the current Arena site will be that of the new one as well as anywhere from 20,000 to 1,000,000 Square Feet of Retail, either a 300 or 400 room Hotel, a 24 story Office Tower, and a 7 screen movie Theater and a concert venue. These were a sample of proposals submitted from various developers. One of the proposals did envision linking it to the Convention Center which has been the only mention of improvements to the Convention Center at any time.
With Stephanie Rawlings Blake as Mayor, she has been championing relocating 1st Mariner Arena to another site. It's obvious that any redevelopment of 1st Mariner Arena is way off in the future. Further adding to the urgency to the question of losing Convention Revenue it is reported that Baltimore will lose out on events at 1st Mariner Arena during the redevelopment which could take three or four years once it begins.
Now this has avoided the head lines more so than the 1st Mariner Redevelopment proposals. A big reason, I would imagine is that the current building is no longer in use. What I'm referring to is the Mechanic Opera House. The old Mechanic Opera House located at Charles and Redwood is at a great Transit Hub location. The Green Line's Charles Center Stop "built for two" meaning when the Yellow Line is built, it can be a transfer point between the two lines. The Mechanic, just by looking at the above photo is ugly and dated.
David S. Brown Enterprises has committed to redeveloping the Mechanic as a Mixed Use Center with a new Mechanic Opera House, roughly 100,000 Square Feet of Retail, a 160 Room Hotel, and 250 Apartments all housed in a 30 Story Sky Scraper.
There is speculation of whether that site can accommodate another Hotel especially as two new Hyatt Brand Hotels have just opened near by (shown above under construction). I would argue that Office Space would be a better suit to help reestablish that area as the Central Business District.
Now back to the main talking point of this post; The Convention Center. As much as the redevelopment projects I've described have had controversies and pitfalls, I still think it's the best solution for the Convention Center. I think the project should be built in two phases; the portion west of Hanover St. and the portion east of Hanover St.
One way the City can keep its Convention Business is by not disturbing the underground portions of the building. The lobby, which is on the main level will be changed drastically but I haven't seen it used much for the Conventions I've attended. The West Hanover St. Portion will have Ground Floor Retail, an above ground Parking Garage, and a 40 Story Office Tower. The East Hanover St. portion will have additional Ground Floor Retail, an above ground Parking Garage of its own, and a 30 Story Apartment and Condo Tower.
I've elected against having another Hotel because there are three literally engulfing it. Also, that location overlooking the Harbor is lacking Office and Residential Space.
Even though there are flaws and pit falls in the redevelopment of both the 1st Mariner Arena and the Mechanic Opera House, I still believe the Convention Center should follow in their foot steps, after all, what development project isn't filled with flaws and pitfalls?


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

To greatly alter or demolish the mechanic I feel is a huge mistake. I know it's not to the taste of most, but it is about as good of an example of 1960s brutalism as you can find. In time appreciation for these buildings will surely increase and we'll lament it's destruction. One could equate it to the ill feeling towards the victorian styles during the 40s-70s, styles now prized and sought after.

Surely actual modernism is favorable to the apologetic corporate quasi-modernism that will most likely impose itself in its place.

Anonymous said...

though I don't know of the details, hopefully they'll redevelop it without significantly altering the theater.