Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Convention Center & Arena: One Site

As Downtown and the Inner Harbor continue to redevelop, there are still things that are old and dated and need to be either modernized or redeveloped to make Baltimore a world class showcase City. This time it's the Convention Center and the Royal Farms Arena. The Royal Farms Arena (nee Civic Center) was a product of the Charles Center redevelopment in which many of the Office Buildings have since been modernized in favor of a more mixed use approach. Now it's the Arena's turn.
Also in need of a complete do over is the Convention Center. The Convention Center was built shortly after Harbor Place but has since been expanded multiple times. Although the expansions have helped attract more conventions, the age, layout, overall unattractiveness of the building, and Baltimore's reputation as being crime ridden has hurt the number of conventions annually. This post will not be addressing the crime aspect (although it has to stop) just the viability and the appearance of the building. Similar buildings and structures have been demolished to make way for more attractive replacements such as the Mechanic Opera House and the McKeldin fountain to name a couple.
It would be a massive yet worthwhile undertaking to redevelop just one of these buildings but to redevelop both? And yet I'm suggesting that it be done. Although that undertaking is as massive as it is, I think if the project were thought of just one undertaking, it make it seem less daunting and the end game is one building instead of two. Does this mean that one of the buildings won't be redeveloped on its original site? Yes, in this case it's the Royal Farms Arena. Although it's close to the Harbor, many agree that isn't close enough. Some have called relocating it to Pier VI but I agree building a building that houses both the Convention Center and the Arena will not only keep the site viable, but also bust year round.
So the new Arena won't be at its current location nor will it be at Pier VI which has also been a suggested location, so where will it go? It will share the site of the current Convention Center. I think the site can fit the two considering its size and the fact that much of the Convention Center is located below ground while the Arena can be above ground. The new Convention Center will be contained to part of the site that's west of Sharp St. The two floors above ground will be Convention Space as will several floors underground. The parking garage will be above the Convention Center and the northwest side of the building will be a high rise Office Building facing Howard St. and Pratt St. while ground floor Retail will face the Pratt St. side of the building. The roof of the parking garage section of the building will be a park with green space.
The part of the site east of Sharp St. will be the Arena. This time the parking garage will be underground and the Arena will be completely above ground. Like the Convention Center parking garage, the roof of the Arena will also be a park with green space. The Arena section of  the site will contain a high rise Apartment Building and ground floor Retail on both Pratt St. and Charles St.
I actually want to take this time in the post to discuss the 200 block of S. Charles which the eastern end of the Convention Center/Royal Farms Arena will abut to. It appears to be an outback to the buildings it serves including the Hyatt, Sheraton, and the PNC Bank Building in addition to the Convention Center/Arena. I would suggest that the Hyatt either adds more and/or relocates its restaurant(s) to have a ground floor entrance facing Charles St. and the PNC Bank building adds Charles St. facing Retail space next to Kona Grill, and the Sheraton enhances its entrance to Morton's the Steakhouse in order to provide a more welcoming and Pedestrian friendly environment to the 200 block of S. Charles St.
In order to redevelop both the Concvention Center and the Royal Farms Arena, a massive commitment of public, private, local and state funds will be required to make this a reality. Now, I haven't forgotten about the site that the current Arena sits on and what to do with it. I'll save my plans for that for another post. 

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