Monday, January 9, 2017

Howard & Franklin: The New Superblock

News on the development front concerning the Super Block has non existent or has been filled with setbacks that has left little for the Super Block. There are those that say that entire Westside of Downtown's revitalization efforts hinge on the Super Block. There are also those that say that the Westside should continue revitalization efforts throughout the area which will in turn add value and developer interest to the Super Block.
My approach favors the latter. If the Super Block isn't feasible right now, lets focus on what is feasible. By doing so, I have found that not only have there been recent successes throughout the Westside, but there are many redevelopment projects coming down the pipeline. The ones I would like to focus on are centered around Howard St. and Franklin St. This currently desolate block(s) has seen lots of developer interest as of late. So much so that I have deemed it "The New Super Block."
Like any Super Block, the area in question covers four square blocks that Howard and Franklin is smack dab in the middle. The actual area covered is Eutaw St. to the west, Centre St. to the north, Park Ave to the east, and Mulberry St. to the south. This area is actually a very important chunk of land as far as what's in its proximity. It has Mount Vernon to the east, historic Seton Hill to the west, Lexington Market to the south, and Bolton Hill and State Center to the north. The light rail runs right down Howard St. and both the Subway and MARC lines nearby.
So what new development is going on around Howard and Franklin? At the southwestern corner 50 Apartments above ground floor Retail is planned. The remaining facades along Howard St. will remain but buildings along Franklin St. will be demolished. Given the lack of clean affordable housing in the area, the Developer wants to keep rents affordable for local Teachers and Firefighters who may not have been able to afford to live Downtown otherwise. This new development will stretch from Franklin St. to Mulberry St. on the east side of Howard St.
On the southwest side of  Howard and Franklin there is already a small glimmer of hope. An old building has been rehabbed as "St. James Place Apartments" and has a Remax Real Estate Office on the ground floor. Heading southbound on Howard St. towards Mulberry St., the buildings are still boarded up however. Fortunately there is developer interest in 400 N. Howard which is at the northwest corner of Howard and Mulberry. With that building rehabbed as mixed use with Retail on the ground floor and Apartments above, the remaining buildings on the west side of the 400 block of Howard St. between St. James Place Apartments and 400 N. Howard will begin to see reinvestment and redevelopment.
The northwest corner of Howard and Franklin is currently seeing some demolition. The old Franklin-Delphey Hotel is hitting the wrecking ball. It is currently unclear what will go in its place but the building's dilapidated condition has made it impossible to preserve. Also in the 500 block of Howard St. just north of the now demolished Franklin-Delphey is the long vacated Mayfair Theater. When I think of the crumbling theater, it becomes a symbol of all the blight the Westside of Downtown has suffered over the years. However, despite its decades of neglect, it's still a beautiful building. Fortunately, historic preservationists think so too and the front facade must be saved if and when any redevelopment project occurs. Next to the Mayfair is success story; the Old Western High School was transformed to the Chesapeake Commons Apartments.
The northeastern block of Franklin and Howard is currently undergoing the most profound transformation of the Howard-Franklin "Super Block" This block currently contains the old Hoschild-Kohn Furniture warehouse at 520 Park Avenue which has been rehabbed into the mixed use called 520 Park. The remainder of this block had currently been a surface lot. Right now, a new mixed use building is under construction known as 500 Park. Although the front of this building faces Park Avenue, it will provide revitalization for the entire block including the northeastern corner of Howard and Franklin.
This particular development is slated bridge the gap between the Westside of Downtown and Mount Vernon. The western edge of Mount Vernon is made up of mostly residences and very little retail which limits the amount of foot traffic in the area. With projects like 520 Park and 500 Park, foot traffic will increase between Mount Vernon and Downtown's Westside.
Since the "Super Block" of Howard and Franklin encompasses four square blocks, there are parts of these blocks in question that may not have frontage to Howard and Franklin but I would still like to see reinvestment or redevelopment done on behalf of the "Super Block." This includes the 400 and 500 blocks of Eutaw St. The 400 block would be the redevelopment of the out of place "Mulberry Courts" into Row House/Retail. This same concept would be used for the 500 block which is currently a surface parking lot behind the old Mayfair Theater and is next to the Old Congress Hotel.
 Although the original Super Block is at a standstill, that doesn't mean that new development in the Westside of Downtown has to be as well. There are numerous other "Super Blocks" throughout the area that can bring the Westside on par with the rest of Downtown and connect it to Mount Vernon. Today, that Super Block is at Howard and Franklin.              

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