Thursday, July 3, 2014

Central Avenue: A Makeover at Last

There was once was a time when Central Avenue lived up to its name. It actually was in the "center" of the settlement once known as Baltimoretown. With the first three settlements being Jonestown, Oldtown, and Fells Point, it's easy to see why Central Avenue was given the name it carries to this day. Obviously some 623,000 Residents and several hundred years later, Baltimore is a different place but Central Avenue has a "center point" for Neighborhoods just southeast of Downtown.
Although Central Avenue is located near rapidly gentrifying Neighborhoods such as Little Italy, Inner Harbor East, Jonestown, Fells Point, Upper Fells Point, and eventually Harbor Point, Central Avenue really isn't a part of any of them. It does divide these Neighborhoods by creating a north south spine that cuts what should be a blending together of Neighborhoods with distinct identities yet all remain true assets to Baltimore as a whole.
Now how did Central Avenue get like this? My theory is that it was always seen as a diving line between Residential Neighborhoods, just look at all the dingy auto shops and low quality Retail that flanks the road. It may have been beneficial in the olden days to have such a dividing line in between these Residential Neighborhoods. Though as a whole southeast Baltimore was ethnically diverse, individual Neighborhoods were not. Little Italy was and still is Italian, Jonestown was historically home to Eastern European Jews, Fells Point and Upper Fells Point was divided into sections of Irish, German, and Polish Backgrounds. Although there are still vestiges remaining of their ethnic pasts still remaining in these communities, these Neighborhoods now play host to every culture and ethnicity under the sun.
So who lived in Inner Harbor East and Harbor Point? Back in their heyday, these communities took full advantage of their proximity to the water. In short, heavy industry lined the docks for importing and exporting and on the main land that is now flanked with ultra upscale Apartments, Offices, Boutiques, and Five Star Hotels was pure factories. In fact pretty much all of Harbor Point was taken up by the Allied Signal Chromium Plant, a major Employer for southeast Baltimore from 1845 up until the 1980s. Given its toxic manufacturing practices, the land that it once occupied was deemed contaminated when the factory closed. That meant a long decades long process of cleaning it up and making it suitable for development. If you were wondering why Harbor Point has remained vacant for so long, there's your answer.
The southern end of Central Avenue was and is where the blurred line separating Inner Harbor East and Harbor Point. The last remaining parcels of undeveloped land all have Central Avenue frontage. The southern most block of Central Avenue contains a rare sight in the high density Inner Harbor East; a surface level parking garage. Further up you will H&S Bakery's plant campus, the last remaining industry in the area. Although the area surrounding Central Avenue has been gentrified and redeveloped, Central Avenue itself remained elusive of that change until now. Finally, at last Central Avenue will get its long overdue makeover.
Harbor Point is what brought on the need for the makeover. Right not Central Avenue dead ends at Lancaster St. In order to make Harbor Point viable for development a bridge will be built over the water extending Central Avenue to Harbor Point. In fact, one could argue that Central Avenue will act as the gateway to Harbor Point. As the groundbreaking for Harbor Point draws closer, the remaining pieces of Inner Harbor East are falling into place. The blocks of Central Avenue containing the surface lot and H&S Bakery will be redeveloped into high end mixed use like the rest of Inner Harbor East. Something tells me that convincing H&S Bakery owner John Paderakis to move his plant wasn't a hard sell. After all he is the developer of Inner Harbor East and bought up all the land surrounding H&S Bakery starting in 1984.                                                                                                                         
So why is Central Avenue so ugly? My guess is that even though it's surrounded by nice showcase Neighborhoods, it's not like actually in them. Although it does cut through Inner Harbor East, John Paterkais has yet to relocate his H&S Bakery for redevelopment. Luckily the City and the Developers of Harbor Point are finally ready to give Central Avenue its much needed makeover. One big reason the Developers of Harbor Point are interested in improving Central Avenue is due to the fact that they will be extended it past Lancaster St. via a bridge over the water right onto the site for Harbor Point. Fortunately, with the City's help, the Developers of Harbor Point will be giving Central Avenue a makeover from Lancaster St. all the way to Madison St.

So what exactly does this makeover include? In addition to the extension to Harbor Point, the existing Central Avenue will receive streetscape enhancements, new pavement, a landscaped median, sidewalks, crosswalks, improved street lighting, and "mast arm" traffic signals. This will make Central Avenue more attractive for rehabbing vacant industrial buildings as mixed use Residential/Retail. Perhaps if any of the plethora of auto shop garages were to go out of business, a more attractive streetscape on Central Avenue will entice redevelopment of the site that houses a shuttered auto garage.
Fortunately gentrification has sprung up along certain parts of Central Avenue already. Part of the Holland Manufacturing Building has been leased to the Heavy Seas Alehouse and another portion has been leased to "Edges" Salon & Spa. There are other spaces available to lease as well. The Canal St. Malt House has been converted into Loft Styles Condos as well. In addition to Retail and Residential popping up in old Industrial Buildings, Start up E-Commerce Company known as "Groove Commerce" has moved into the old Fallsway Spring Building.
Although Central Avenue is surrounded by some of Baltimore's most sought after Neighborhoods, the road itself is still quite ugly. There are some exceptions with signs of life rehabbing old buildings but there's a lot more work to be done. Fortunately, the City and Harbor Point's Developer have taken notice and Central Avenue will get a makeover at last.              

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Central Avenue IS part of Little Italy, actually. Little Italy's boundaries to the east end on Eden Street.