Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Poppleton Redevelopment Moving Forward at Last

Poppleton is the text book definition of what happens to a City Neighborhood plagued by urban decay, population loss, high unemployment, an eroding tax base, and a high concentration of poverty. At the same time, Poppleton is very close to Downtown and its numerous institutions and Employment Centers, the biggest being University of Maryland Baltimore and University of Maryland Medical Center. For that reason, Poppleton has been on the radar of City Planners and Developers to massively overhaul the Neighborhood and transform it into a thriving mixed use mixed income urban haven. Unfortunately, despite numerous attempts and numerous projects to do so, nothing has really gotten off the ground. Until now. Redevelopment appears to finally be moving forward at last.
The downfall of Poppleton can be traced back to failed "urban renewal" efforts. These attempts at urban renewal and slum removal involved dividing Neighborhoods with highways and demolishing what very well could have been historic housing stock in favor of high rise public housing. In the case of Poppleton that means the infamous "Road to Nowhere" and the equally infamous Lexington Terrace Housing Projects. Lexington Terrace was built next to the pre-existing Poe Homes Public Housing Development. Although Poe Homes is a low rise Community, it still created a high concentration of poverty when coupled with Lexington Terrace.
Middle Class Residents of Poppleton left the Neighborhood in search of newer safer housing. Given how outnumbered they were and the escalating crime and decay that came with Lexington Terrace, it's hard to blame them for doing so especially as segregation in Neighborhoods such as Edmondson Village had been lifted. This left Poppleton in shambles. To make matters worse, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard was completed in 1982 though not an interstate, cuts off the Neighborhood from Downtown.
As the 20th Century drew to a close, Planners wanted to capitalize on Poppleton's proximity to Downtown, more importantly UMB. To expand the success of the growing University into Poppleton, but first the biggest source of urban decay had to go; Lexington Terrace. With funds from the HOPE VI program, Lexington Terrace was demolished and redeveloped with the "Townes at the Terraces" a town home development with a low rise Apartment Building for Seniors, a Rite Aid Pharmacy, and a small Office Building. About 1/3 of the town homes were market rate units for sale while the remainder of the development is public housing.
Although it's been said that Lexington Terrace's successor doesn't have a broad enough income mix or crime is still prevalent in Poppleton, I would argue that despite these shortcomings, Townes at the Terraces has been successful at reducing crime in Poppleton, especially when comparing it to the days of Lexington Terrace. With Lexington Terrace a thing of the past, now Poppleton can begin its renaissance. 
For any part of the City to revitalize, it must first be a draw to new Residents. One way to do that is to put a large Employment Center in close proximity. As these discussions about how to revitalize Poppleton were going on, so too were discussions regarding UMB building a Biotech Park. With the land owned by UMB east of MLK Boulevard reaching build out, it became clear that in order to build the Biotech Park, UMB would have to venture west of MLK. There's your new draw for Poppleton.
Baltimore St. has always acted as a Main Street for Poppleton and surrounding areas so it would make sense that is where the new Biotech Park would be located. The blocks containing the Park also had lots of vacants so it would be relatively easy to buy up those properties for demolition. Construction of the Biotech Park started in the mid 2000s and its progress was halted due to the economy crashing in 2008. Slowly but surely more and more buildings are going up and more and more space is being leased.
On the Residential side, there has been some redevelopment along Fayette St. and little else But finally, land has been amassed and cleared for major residential redevelopment the likes of which haven't been seen since the construction (and subsequent demolition of) Lexington Terrace. The southeastern edge of this redevelopment parcel borders on the northeastern edge of the Biotech Park. The goal of connecting the two developments will create live work area in Poppleton and Biotech employees who don't live in Poppleton will feel safe walking around the Neighborhood. This can also be achieved by revitalizing Baltimore St. west of the Biotech into a Main St. for the Community. Although most buildings here are dilapidated, I would still like to see their facades preserved (similar to marketplace at Fells Point.)
The land poised for residential redevelopment is located in the blocks north, west, and east of Excel Academy at Francis M. Wood High School. So far one developer has submitted plans for a redeveloped Poppleton. Their plans, located along Schroeder St. between Fairmount Ave. and Lexington St. includes a large mixed income Apartment building that mimics the recently completed "FItzgerald" at the edge of Mount Vernon and Bolton Hill (pictured below). Centerwest's upscale styling shows that the redevelopment efforts in Poppleton are going for an upscale look and are looking a greater mix of incomes for future Poppleton Residents as well as developments.
Centerwest is just one development in an are marked for large full scale redevelopment but what it symbolizes is much greater. It shows that redevelopment in Poppleton is finally moving forward. Hopefully with the case of Centerwest, the mantra of "If you Build it They Will Come" will ring true, both with new Residents and new developments.

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