Friday, November 29, 2013
Making The Super Block A Little Less Super
I think the fact that the Super Block has been an all or nothing deal has been a major hindrance in its come back. Not helping matters is the fact that the footprints of the buildings are so old and not conducive to a modern Retailer's needs. Do I think these architectural gems should be demolished for that fact and replaced with the cookie cutter big box Retail that has just opened in Canton Crossing? Absolutely not. Just like with the all or nothing impasse, I think an agreement can be reached.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake has withdrawn the Request for Proposal (RFP) for the Super Block saying that the project is too big for just one developer especially during these economic times where developers and lenders aren't taking such high risks. I personally agree that the project is too large but that begs the question; Where do we go from here? I mean just because the project is too large isn't an excuse to allow the Super Block to just sit and decay. I think that it's time to break up the Super Block into smaller "mini districts" that will each have its own strengths and weaknesses to play off of.
First we have the 100 Block of Howard St. I would propose that this be the first piece of the Super Block to tackle. On the west side of the 100 block of Howard St. one can see success stories such as the Atrium, and Avalon Center-point. Also with the Light Rail running right through it, this can be touted as TOD. Although there are success stories on the west side of the 100 block of Howard St., there are some opportunities. There are some Retail vacancies that I believe are a direct result of the Super Block side being neglected. As a result, I think it only fair that the City make an (RFP) for both sides of the 100 block of Howard St. so both sides can grow together.
Next, we have Lexington St. Lexington St. has reopened to vesicular traffic through the Super Block in hopes of luring a developer. So far no dice. For Lexington St. in the Super Block as well as the few blocks west of it I want to name the "Lexington District" making it form as a "Gateway" to Lexington Market. In fact I would like to reopen Lexington Market from Park Avenue/Liberty St. all the way to Charles St. This create an energy from Charles Center all the way to Lexington Market. I think the two pillars of Downtown being linked together via Lexington St. will make the Lexington St. side of the Super Block all the more attractive.
The Park Avenue/Liberty St.side of the Super Block may not come to fruition quite yet. In fact, due to the state of neglect that Park Avenue is in I would to see blocks to the north rehabbed/redeveloped first. Why those blocks first? I would like play on the fact that park Avenue is just a few blocks west of Mount Vernon Place. That part of Park Avenue is in great shape and I would like to extend that energy further south and eventually all the way to the Super Block.
When the Super Block portion of Park Avenue/Liberty St. is finally addressed I would like to see it well connected to Charles Center. In fact I would name that section "Charles Center West." When Charles Center was built in the 1960s and '70s, it walled itself off from the decaying parts of Downtown like the Super Block. Although this was beneficial to Charles Center, it further contributed to the decay of the Super Block. I believe that opening up Charles Center so to speak will contribute in the renewal efforts of the Super Block.
So what have we accomplished so far? So far we have managed to make the Super Block a little less super by breaking it up into three smaller projects that should appear less daunting to Retailers and Developers, but what have we done to make the buildings themselves more appealing? I think that some interior demolition is unavoidable. The buildings are just too narrow to lure Retailers as they are now. The front facades will remain as they are but in the back the buildings will be modernized and redeveloped to mimic the footprint of cookie cutter Retail like Canton Crossing (pictured above). A perfect example of this type of redevelopment is going on right now on Broadway with "The Market Place at Fells Point." And wouldn't you know it? Market Place at Fells Point is being built around another public market; Broadway Market. If the Super Block mimicked that by being built around Lexington Market we just have a winner here.
The Super Block is currently at a stand still. Most people believe (myself included) that the Super Block is just too super and breaking it up may begin to lure Retailers and Developers to this diamond in the rough.