Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Demise of the Central Business District and the Rise of Mixed Use

There's a development phenomenon taking our Nation's Cities by storm. That phenomenon? Mixed Use Development. Although Mixed Use Development has always had a place in our Cities, areas that were once solely Retail, Commercial, Residential, Recreational, or industrial have now been divided to house all of the above land uses in compact high density Neighborhoods. Baltimore is no different as Neighborhoods especially Downtown are suffering from a bit of an identity crisis as a result especially Downtown's Central Business District.
Up until the 1960s, mixed use was much more commonplace. Then during the flight to the suburbs, industry as we knew it died leaving swaths of vacant land throughout (pictured above), a lot of these vacant industrial Neighborhoods are today's Inner Harbor . Also the City pushed to rid Neighborhoods of "Corner Stores" which they believed was contributing to the escalating crime rate. Downtown, there was the Central Business District and the Westside of Downtown which had been the City's Shopping District. 
As suburban Shopping Malls began popping up throughout the suburbs, fewer and fewer Shoppers graced the Westside of Downtown, a problem that City Leaders and Private Developers are trying to remedy to this day. The Central Business District however has had a luckier fate. James Rouse who ironically built a large portion of the suburban shopping Malls that bled the City as of its destination Retail status stepped in to save the Central Business District. At the time the Central Business District had old Buildings that would not or could not compete with newer Office Buildings being built in the suburbs. With that Charles Center was born.
Charles Center was a no nonsense redevelopment that got rid of what was left of the old Office Buildings as well as Buildings with other uses. This only helped the City do away with mixed use. Charles Center also walled itself off from Neighboring Districts with its intrusive Office Buildings in an attempt wall itself off from the blight that those Neighborhoods were experiencing. South of Charles Center however, the walled off concept was not to be.
The Inner Harbor, one of the industrial areas that had been abandoned was the target for another Rouse Company redevelopment project. This time buildings would not be sky scrapers, in fact they would be short in stature so as not to obstruct views from the water. The beginning of the Inner Harbor redevelopment was also the beginning of the rebirth of mixed in Baltimore. The first pieces of the Inner Harbor included the Promenade (Recreational), Harbor Place (Retail), and the Science Center and Aquarium (Institutional). Shortly there after the Residential components began to take shape by rehabbing Row Homes in Otterbein, Federal Hill, and Fells Point. 
Shortly after the successful beginnings of the Inner Harbor, John Paterakis, who earned his fortune with the successful H&S Bakery turned developer and took the bold move of buying the huge swaths of vacant industrial land between Little Italy, the Inner Harbor and Fells Point. His vision was to bring in upscale high density mixed use development known as Inner Harbor East. After decades of pit falls, Paterakis's dream of redeveloping this land has come to fruition (pictured above). The Mixed Use Inner Harbor East is home to Offices, Retail, Apartments, Hotels, and an extended Promenade. A lot of the Offices that leased space in Harbor East relocated from the Central Business District and the Retail in both Inner Harbor East and Harbor Place could have gone to the Westside of Downtown. But that's old world thinking, Mixed Use is all the rage. 
As gentrification of the Inner Harbor spread to Neighborhoods like Butcher's Hill, Canton, Greektown, and Brewers Hill, so too did the redevelopment of the waterfront. Mixed Use began moving further and further southeast along Boston St. where unlike Inner Harbor East, Canton's and Brewers Hills's Industrial Past was salvaged and reused as loft Apartments, as well as Retail. There was also plenty of new construction in Canton as well. Canton had its own version of stalled mixed use development like Inner Harbor East; Canton Crossing. 
At first Canton Crossing was little more than a lone Office Building that housed the headquarters of First Mariner Bank and a large penthouse Apartment owned by First Mariner Bank President and Canton Crossing Developer Ed Hale. Due to the collapse of the economy in 2008, the Retail component of Canton Crossing had stalled and Ed Hale had to sell off the land that was banked for Canton Crossing so he could save the Bank from going under. After years of waiting the Shops at Canton Crossing was completed and lots of chain stores that were only available in the suburbs had arrived in the City.
Meanwhile, across from Canton Crossing where Canton meets Brewers Hill meets Greektown, Apartment construction has been continuing at a break neck pace. I also read in an article that there is a high demand for Office Space in Canton in addition to the demand for Office Space in Harbor Point and what has yet to be built in Inner Harbor East. This southeasterly shift of Office Space from the Central Business District has been remarkable, but how has the Central Business District fared?
Given that this post is about how Mixed Use Development in Baltimore has become the current development trend I'm sure you know where this is going. As much as the there's now demand for Office Space in Harbor Point, Harbor East, and Canton, there's as much if not more demand for Residential development Downtown. The Central Business District is now playing host to mixed use as well, 10 Light St. is being converted into 445 luxury Apartments, as well as 301 N. Charles St., and 114 E. Lexington St. are slated to do so as well. Also in the Central Business District is 414 Water St. which is new construction which are Condos not Apartments (pictured above). There have also been numerous Hotel recently built in the Central Business District.
The future of the Central Business District and areas directly surrounding will only add to the new Mixed Use feel of Downtown. Vacant parcels such as 300 E. Pratt St.,(pictured above) the Conway St. parking lot, and the Mechanic Opera House all have mixed use development and redevelopment plans on the books. There were also plans to redevelop 1st Mariner Arena by adding additional floors by Ed Hale's financial problems put that on the back burner. 
There has also been a demand for Residences in Downtown's Westside. Residential towers both new and re-purposed have been completed. The idea of re-converting the Westside back into Baltimore's Retail destination have fallen flat however. It is unknown if and when Retail will return to the Westside but it's comforting to know that there's at least a small Residential renaissance.      
Although the demand for Office Space in the traditional Downtown area has gone down, the need for Residential space in that same area has gone up. Also the demand for Office Space Citywide has gone up it's just that the demand is in places that aren't the traditional Central Business District. The end result is a plethora of mixed use development throughout the City's gentrified areas that will surely expand Baltimore's showcase.


Anonymous said...

Something needs to be done about Calvert St between Baltimore St and midtown. Most of that area really feels like the red headed stepchild of St Paul St, with nothing but parking garage entrances and other access type areas, with nothing else of interest. I'm really surprised the City planners didn't realize how concentrated this is on Calvert when they approved Mercy's new construction. I believe it's what hurts that particular street in downtown at least. It's a shame they didn't mix it up and have some offices, retail, etc have entrances back there.

Unknown said...

Would you know how I could find out about an old business in the city? My relatives had a shop called Beazley Millinery in the 110 block of N. Charles St. It was owned by a great aunt of mine named Addie Beazley. She was my grandfather's sister. I would love to be able to find info on the shop and maybe even some photos.