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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

New FBI Headquarters: How About Baltimore?

Well I do applaud Hogan and his push for moving State Offices Downtown and while I do have other plans for how to redevelop the State Center Office Complex without the State Offices as its anchors, I do believe the push revamping Downtown needs to go Federal as well. With a whopping 23% of Downtown's Offices vacant while moves to Harbor East or Harbor Point are right around the corner for several large scale tenants currently Downtown, the 3,300 and change employees moving Downtown is beginning to look like a mere drop in the bucket.

As the title suggests, I'm suggesting moving the FBI headquarters to Baltimore. Sounds crazy right? Well, the J. Edgar Hoover Building in DC is decades old and is in poor condition and there have been plans to relocate the headquarters into either PG County or Fairfax County. This was nixed when Trump opted to have the building torn down and rebuilt in its current location. As of today, neither has come to fruition and Hogan according to the Baltimore Business Journal wants the Biden Administration to commit to moving the headquarters to PG County. 

I consider the suburbs outside of DC to flushed with jobs and State and Federally funded projects. Although that is the reason Hogan wants to put the headquarters there, that is the exact reason I don't want it there and to have it built in Baltimore. Baltimore has been snubbed by Hogan on multiple occasions including cancelling the Red Line and State Center redevelopments and reducing funding for building new Schools in the City drastically and lets not forget touting Montgomery County as the only place for Amazon's HQ2. 

All of the sudden, he appears to care about Downtown by moving State Offices there. Well, lets make him double down on his sudden interest to the City. Another thing Baltimore has in its favor is the fact that President Joe Biden has ridden past Baltimore morning and evening on his way between his Wilmington, DE home and the Senate in DC. He's seen the disinvestment, crime, and population loss from the window of his Amtrak train. This personal connection to the City may help him see the need of Federal Jobs and the investment that comes with it. To put it bluntly, Baltimore needs this.

OK, so now the case has been made to relocate the FBI headquarters to Baltimore. Now comes the question of where. I personally don't believe existing Downtown Offices are able to suit these new headquarters very well. I do, however believe after extensive renovations that private firms and agencies may go here but only if the FBI does too. I've long pondered a suitable site for the FBI as well as a way to reenergize the eastern edge of Downtown and I've come up with this.

The Edison Lots! Of course! The Edison lots are just east of the JFX and are literally nothing more than surface parking lots. The City has long been seeking ways to build on these lots to make them a useful part of the urban landscape and an extension of Downtown. This piece of land gives the Feds all the freedom they need to build the new FBI headquarters to their specifications. Not only that, it will give many other redevelopment initiatives across the City a big shot in the arm.

The redevelopment of Old Town Mall, dismantling the JFX, the Yellow Line running from Columbia to Towson are just a few of the projects that could be made possible with the relocation of the FBI headquarters. The construction of the headquarters can put upwards of thousands of jobs to Baltimore where and when they are desperately needed. This boom may convince people to move back to the City to help Baltimore's population and tax base grow once again.  

The move of State Offices from their current location is an easy decision and a no brainer. Moving the FBI headquarters from DC to Baltimore is a tough one but one that will prove lucrative and rewarding for a long suffering City. Think about it Larry.


       

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Sit on it COVID Edition Part II: What Worked

What do we do now? Now, we rebuild. That is the standard answer given at the end of any disaster and/or horror movie that involves mass destruction. Although COVID isn't a movie, it's all too real however as more and more people are vaccinated and herd immunity gets closer, we must think of a plan to move forward from the devastation that COVID has brought to Baltimore. 

Sadly, this post isn't some plan to refill Downtown's rapidly emptying Office Buildings. This post does discuss what wasn't devastated during COVID and how that may change things permanently. So lets see what has not only survived during COVID but what has thrived during it as well.

Restaurants

Wait! Didn't I just post restaurants in the previous post as something that has taken a massive hit? I did, however Restaurants in many cases are looking to creative new ways to keep themselves afloat. Restaurants that had never used delivery services such as DoorDash, Grub Hub, Uber Eats etc. and curbside pickup as well as "Cocktails to Go" have been literal lifesavers to those who haven't been able to offer seating or be at a very limited capacity. Another promising sign for Baltimore is that when a Restaurant closes, new Restaurateurs have been scouting out those spaces and have made plans to open their own concepts. Though this hasn't been the case for every single closed Restaurant, I find it very encouraging that Restaurateurs are still seeking out space.

Residential Real Estate Market 

One things that makes very happy and optimistic is that people still want to live here! Though fewer people are buying and selling houses, that are have been getting the asking prices and then some. People want to live here. Not only that, despite COVID Baltimore can still absorb thousands upon thousands of new luxury Apartment units (perhaps this is a think tank to fill office space) and that doesn't even begin to address the need for affordable housing. Perhaps these numbers can provide hope for population growth if developers jump on it.

Grass Roots Efforts

A lot of the new development projects and businesses being launched during this pandemic have been "for the little guy" An example of this is how commercial kitchens have popped up for food trucks. Also many developments have been affordable housing in often overlooked part of the City. The blocks of Howard Sr. in Downtown's Westside have been the subject of many redevelopment efforts with new businesses and Residents signing leases to live there. In Upton, Druid Heights, and Penn North land is being assembled to build new homes where dilapidated boarded up homes and businesses once stood or have long since been demolished. What's great about these new developments besides their affordability is the fact that they haven't been the same old developers spear heading theses projects, it's younger minority owned firms who have been getting their feet in the door. If successful perhaps these new developers will chosen for larger projects.

Grocery Stores

Ah yes, the Grocery Stores. The paranoia that surrounded the earlier months of this pandemic have helped Grocery Stores cash in like never before with isles of toilet, paper, milk, eggs, bread, flour, beef, chicken and many more items being sold out for months on end. Not only that, whenever these items were in stock, the price could skyrocket since the production was so low. Shop from programs launched by stores themselves have been perfected like well oiled machines in the past year while still in their infancy pre-pandemic. Also personal shoppers through apps like "InstaCart" have had their profits soar. 

Creative/Shared Workspaces

As Office Space downsizes in some cases permanently, commercial landlords are left with a plethora of Office Space to fill and now they must decide how to move forward with how to best lease them out. Before this can happen, these aging Office Buildings will most certainly undergo significant renovations if they are to compete with newer buildings not only across the City but across the region. One way in which this is being done redefining the work space by limiting the footprint that Offices take by sharing workspaces to allow more people to work remotely without wasting space. A lot of these renovations occurring include modernizing common areas and adding amenities found in newer buildings to compete. With or without COVID being a factor, the fight to retain and attract Office Tenants was brewing for quite some time and is now in full force.

Now that just about wraps my coverage of how COVID has effected Baltimore and which parts have fared poorly and which parts aren't faring as bad. Keep in mind this barely scratches the surface and a million more forces are at play that have made Baltimore have the year it did. Some of these were accidents waiting to happen that were sped up by COVID while others will right themselves while vaccinations continue and we come closer to herd immunity. Since we haven't achieved that yet, we must Sit On it for a while longer.   

    

Monday, March 8, 2021

Sit On it COVID Edition Part I The Devastation

 Every time there's an economic downturn in Baltimore and the nation as a whole, I publish a post or two known as "Sit On It" it describes how development should proceed or some some cases wait until the economy turns around. This of course is speculation because nobody knows if, when, and how the market recovers. This time COVID has brought parts of Baltimore to a screeching halt as it has the entire planet. In this edition of "Sit On It" I'm going to talk about what things got hit the most and whether they have a chance of recovering.

Sports & Recreation

Remember the popular venues that hosted concerts, baseball, football, conventions, and the Preakness? I do too. However it's been a while since they've been open to the public other than testing sites and or vaccination sites. Even if they did host recreational events, who would go there? It's absolutely impossible to social distance and with the food and drink being sold there, people would have to remove their masks to consume them. Although the Orioles and Ravens had been playing games on and off throughout COVID, it was to empty Stadiums. I do believe Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadiums will attract spectators once again, I do have my doubts about Royal Farms Arena and the Convention Center. This is because the buildings are dated and redevelopment has been needed for some time now and I believe the COVID pandemic has only exacerbated these needs. 

Dine In Restaurants

Restaurant owners and their employees have had it very hard during COVID. The biggest ones to lose out are ones that don't have much of an emphasis on carry out and/or rely on liquor consumption for a majority of their sales. Restaurants have done their best to adapt to these changes with curbside pickup and outdoor dining and "Cocktails to go" but many others have closed their doors because they can't stay afloat with such a high drop in revenue. Though some restrictions have been lifted, dining rooms aren't able to fill to capacity per City ordinances. It's still yet to be seen how weary diners will be when dining rooms reopen to full capacity. 

Hotels

Parts of Baltimore that rely heavily on travel and tourism are flush with Hotels to lodge travelers. If our nation's borders are closed and interstate travel is banned without long quarantine sessions before and after, it begs the question; Who's Staying at Hotels? The answer is very few. During the first few months of COVID, Hotels have shut down and their staffs were laid off. Even today, Hotels can only fill a small percentage of their rooms and can only bring back a portion of their staff. Though there were Hotels under construction when COVID hit that have since been completed, openings were anything but grand. As restrictions are lifted however, I believe Hotel occupancy will go up.

Malls

Though Mondawmin Mall has certainly suffered during this pandemic as have all the suburban Malls outside of Baltimore, I would like to focus on Harbor Place. Harborplace has been the poster child of  Dead Malls during the COVID era. High vacancies, poor management, decaying structures, and landlord bankruptcy has plagued this high end and sought after crowning jewel of the Inner Harbor long before hand its decline has accelerated even more in the past year. Before COVID hit, there had been talk of additional life saving renovations to the two pavilions on Light St. and Pratt St. and repurposing them for uses other than brick and mortar Retail. Now, it appears they're not coming back to life even once the Harbor Promenade is filled with tourists and area Residents alike. 

Office Space

Many parts of Baltimore depend on the daily commute but none as much as Downtown. It contains the largest concentration of Office Space in the City and although Residential uses had been increasing in the years leading up to COVID, it hasn't been enough to empty out Downtown. As it turns out, many people who once called themselves commuters now can work remotely from home and it seems as though they don't want to stop once restrictions are lifted. So now the question remains; What do we do with all of the Office Space that is preparing to be emptied out by T. Rowe Price, Bank of America, Pandora, TransAmerica, and PNC among countless other Downtown firms now filling its buildings? Well, I don't know. I suppose some can be repurposed as Residences but can ALL of them? What about the Retail spaces that were meant to serve the commuter crowd? What about Hotels whose business depends on business travelers? This, out of all of the other facets of the economy listed has the largest domino effect and also will have the longest lasting devastation. Solutions will be needed and I hope to think some up.

Now, don't worry. Baltimore's post COVID self isn't all doom and gloom, things will slowly but surely begin to come back as they will in the earth as a whole. In addition, none of the problems discussed here are unique to Baltimore and in some cases were not even caused by COVID but merely accelerated by it. Stay tuned for Part II: The Rebuild.      


       

Thursday, January 28, 2021

New Posts Coming Soon

 After a long hiatus from blogging, I'm more than ready to return. 2020 saw lots of changes that made my blogs take a back seat but now that I'm settled into my new life, the siren song of blogging has become front and center yet again. Stay Tuned!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Howard St: Feet on the Ground

This post is kind of a continuation of the previous post "Darling I Love You But Give Me Park Avenue." That post has all northbound traffic on Howard St. being diverted onto Park Avenue where the current Royal Farms Arena is. One thing I left out and I did this on purpose, was what happens to Howard St. after the split.

When looking at Howard St., one can't help but look and see that the place is deserted. At the same time, it's very hard to leave Baltimore City when coming from Downtown. Luckily, there is a solution to getting feet on the ground on Howard St. and finding an easy exit from the City. As it stands now, the only way to exit the City from the south, is from Light St. or Maryland Avenue via Cathedral St. and Sharp St. Neither of those are a straight shot onto I-395 and I-95. However, Howard St., below Conway St. IS I-395. This needs to be used to the advantage of the City and its drivers.
Right now, Howard St. is two way in the southern part of its Downtown/Midtown journey. It eventually becomes a one way northbound only street. Before crossing the JFX, Howard St. becomes two way once again going through Station North, Remington, and Charles Village. We mustn't forget that the Light Rail tracks have been jammed down Howard St. for its Downtown and Midtown journey which I will further address.
So what do we do with Howard St.? We make the entire stretch of Howard St. between the JFX and Baltimore St. a one way street southbound as a sort of exit from the City since it dumps you right on to I-395 as an alternative to St. Paul St./Light St., MLK Boulevard, and Maryland Avenue/Cathedral St. I believe this will add more traffic to Howard St. and allow the corridor to grow in a way that it hasn't been able to yet. So now Park Avenue and Howard St. will become a couplet much like Charles St. and St. Paul St. just further west.     
Getting feet on the ground along Howard St. has always been a struggle. Similar to Old Town Mall, parts of Howard St. were banned from vehicular traffic causing those businesses to shutter. Although this was eventually rectified by reopening the entire stretch of Howard St. as a mixture of a one way or two way street, the Light Rail being shoved down it at surface level has caused more problems than it has solved given the narrow length of the road and better alternatives to get between Downtown and North Baltimore.
One thing in the last paragraph that I would like to expand on is the Light Rail. To say the least, what little Rail Transit Baltimore has is a mess. However, this existing stretch of Light Rail along Howard St. could remedy itself when the CSX tunnel running under Howard St. is redeveloped. This CSX tunnel currently causes a backup for all freight trains and needs to be repaired and expanded. If done correctly, the Light Rail can use this same tunnel under Howard St. and the stops can be underground and Howard St. will no longer have block long trains interrupting City traffic. The tunneling of the Howard St. Light Rail is a pipe dream and I believe converting to a southbound only route for vehicular traffic is still viable before the Light Rail tracks are tunneled.
Fortunately, there is still interest in some of the blighted buildings especially in the 300-500 blocks. In other parts of Howard St., the City is interested in getting Developers to build at the site of the Super Block and the Mayfair Theatre/ Congress Hotel Site. Although this interest is promising for Howard St., there are still many parts that need to be addressed. Most notably, the old Antiques Row and around the old Department Stores that have been converted into loft Apartments. Despite these upscale Apartments attracting Residents, the ground floor Retail sits empty and this section of Howard St. is still lacking feet on the ground.
Although there are development projects in the works for Howard St., I believe that in order to effectively increase the number of feet on the ground, Howard St. should be come southbound only from Mount Royal Avenue to Lombard St. while Park Avenue takes over the northbound traffic for stretch of Howard St.   

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Darling I Love But Give Me Park Avenue

I think if Lisa Douglas (Eva Gabor) were to look at Park Avenue in Downtown Baltimore, I believe she would agree that Green Acres is the place to be. For this post in case you missed it, will be about Park Avenue going through Downtown and how to make it better all around.
Park Avenue is very much an anomaly as it runs north as a one way street through Downtown above Baltimore St. but is neither part of Charles Center or the Department Store District on Howard St nor is it part of the Lexington Market area around Eutaw and Paca Sts. Hopefully after this post and the next post, you too will be saying "Darling I Love You But Give Me Park Avenue."
Although Park Avenue has a beautiful appearance through Mount Vernon, Bolton Hill, and to a lesser extent Reservoir Hill, the Downtown section is very bleak. It consists mainly of boarded up row homes that had long since been converted into Apartments with ground floor Retail most of which is vacant. Another stark contrast Park Avenue has versus roads parallel to it is the fact that there is very little traffic bet it vehicular traffic or foot traffic. 
Fortunately, I know how to solve the lack of traffic on Park Avenue while at the same time easing congestion on parallel northbound one way streets such as Charles St. and Calvert St. In order to achieve this, we divert the would be northbound traffic from Howard St. to Park Avenue. Now where would this go? Howard St. would veer off into Park Avenue between Lombard St. and Baltimore St. where the current Royal Farms Arena is.
As has been discussed numerous times on this and many other blogs and forums, Royal Farms Arena is old, outdated, and needs to be redeveloped. It had been though that the best place to put it is right at the Inner Harbor. I disagree with this and I think it should be redeveloped in conjunction with equally dated and obsolete Convention Center a few blocks to the south. The Royal Farms Arena and Convention Center would share a building or buildings at the site of the current Convention Center and will be adorned with ground floor Retail and Offices and/or Apartments above it.
Now that the Royal Farms Arena is out of the way, we can continue travelling north Park Avenue. The first few blocks of Park Avenue run straight through the beleaguered "Super Block" of Downtown's Westside. Many, including me believe that the redevelopment of the Super Block will fuel additional investment in the Westside and put it on par with Baltimore's showcase Neighborhoods. A Park Avenue with heavier vehicular and foot traffic will be a step in the right direction.
Another shot in the arm for the Super Block is the fact that a brand new mixed use building can and should be built on the westside of Park Avenue between Lexington St. and Clay St. adjacent to the old Stewart's Department Store. This vacant plat of land only adds to the baron appearance of the Super Block and Development of it is crucial to further any future progress.
Above Clay St., Park Avenue begins to look very desolate. Originally this contained row homes that had been converted into Apartments with ground floor Retail however, they now appear to be vacant on all fronts. These few blocks below Franklin St. once contained Baltimore's Chinatown and the few businesses operating on these blocks of Park Avenue reflect that demographic. There has been interest in increasing the number of Chinese owned businesses along this stretch and I'm all for it.
 Redeveloping these properties will be very expensive since the facades were beautiful and should be preserved. However, the footprints of these buildings are outdated so I'm recommending redeveloping them in the same manor as the Marketplace at Fells Point with the facades preserved but everything else is brand new Apartments and Ground Floor Retail. I believe the end result to be worth it and I consider Marketplace at Fells Point to be some of the most innovative preservation/redevelopment efforts. The area won't be completely void of new development as the surface parking lot just south of Franklin St. would be developed to complement its newly developed and redeveloped Neighbors.
Above Franklin St., Park Avenue enters the western edge of the famed Mount Vernon Neighborhood. I've referred to this area as the "Midtown Donut" since I consider it be void of Retail and new construction. This use may fit this stretch of Park Avenue just fine. It contains some of Baltimore's best row house architecture that I don't believe should be modified to fit Retail. Fortunately, without this area being a Retail District, it is only a couple of blocks away from the main north-south thoroughfares of Charles St. and St. Paul St. respectively.
Park Avenue enjoys beautiful architecture in Mount Vernon uninterrupted until it hits Chase St./MLK Boulevard. This is where/when the road will have to be redesigned to meet Howard St. once again before crossing the JFX into Station North. Park Avenue as we know it goes northwest towards Bolton Hill and Reservoir Hill and the Park Avenue as we know it takes on the Cathedral St. moniker before ending at Mount Royal Avenue. However, the redesign would include Park Avenue/Cathedral St. going past Mount Royal Avenue and going on a new road above the CSX tracks west of the Fitzgerald Apartment Building and joining Howard St. just before the JFX bridge.
Now I'm sure you're asking yourselves "Why?" Why do all this work on Park Avenue when there's a perfectly good and somewhat underused Howard St. just one block to the west? Well, I have a plan for Howard St. and I'm going to ask you to stay tuned for that plan. With this plan and the Howard St. plan, Eva Gabor as Lisa Douglas will say "Darling I love, but Give Me Park Avenue." and she'll mean Baltimore's Park Avenue. 
     

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Pimlico: No Preakness? No Money

Ever heard the phrase "money talks"? Well that phrase is very true and not only does money talk, it talks loud. It talks louder than any voice on the face of the earth. The larger the amount of money is, the louder the money talks. Enter the Stronach Group, current owners of Pimlico, Laurel Race Track, and a Bowie Training Facility. They have a lot to say quite loudly with the money they have, the money they've gotten, and the money they want. So I'm going to make this very clear to the Stronach Group; No Preakness at Pimlico will cost you a lot of money both in the present and the future.
Those sound like fighting words. Well, they are. Stronach Group is trying to do the unthinkable; Move The Pareakness not just out of Pimlico, but out of Baltimore completely and into Laurel. It has become very clear that through money they've personally spent and money given to them by the state goes overwhelmingly to Laurel and they think Pimlico is too far gone to be renovated or redeveloped and that the future of horse racing in Maryland is in Laurel.
Well we here in Baltimore don't take too kindly to having a tradition that dates back to 1873 taken away from them. In fact, it makes us very angry. So angry that we may want to make Stronach group and its anti Baltimore rhetoric do what it appears unwilling to do; Pay. Not only will they get nothing in aid, tax breaks, tax shelters, but every penny they've gotten from the City of Baltimore or the State of Maryland EVER. This comes out to over a $100 million check Stronach will have to cough up which is about 1/4 the cost of a full Pimlico redevelopment which the Stadium Authority estimates to be $424 Million.
OK, so coughing up $100 million+ to the state doesn't sound like much when compared to $424 million however, if they get nothing from the state as far maintenance aid, tax breaks, tax shelters, those numbers can add up very quickly and Stronach is paying that money out of their own pockets instead of the state, this may get people's attention. Also, Stronach can't do a cut and run with Pimlico, if they abandon the race track, they will have to foot the bill for demolition of the site, clearing of the site, and infrastructure for whatever new development replaces Pimlico. That's quite a hefty bill Stronach is being stuck with for moving the Preakness out of Pimlico isn't it? I bet these costs they would have to pay to exit Baltimore have now exceeded $424 Million.
Now, by making Stronach pay so much cash and lose out on any additional aid if they move the Preakness to Laurel, suddenly the $424 million cost to redevelop Pimlico is the cheaper alternative. Not only that, the City and the State are now working with you instead of against you. All of that aid will no longer have to be paid back and the City State will continue to be willing provide future aid.

The one thing Stronach has a point of is the lack of use Pimlico over all throughout the year. In a previous post several years back, I have proposed part of the redevelopment include turning the racetrack into a large swimming pool and water park during the summer and an ice skating rink during the winter using the Beverly Hills High Swim Gym technology as stated in my previous post. These additional uses may cost more with redevelopment however, with the additional uses at Pimlico the additional revenue, these upgraded uses will pay for themselves.
It's true, money talks. We can't change that. But it can be used to our advantage to turn the tables to get what's needed by using that very philosophy. No Preakness? No money. Lets get used to saying that.