Monday, December 24, 2007

Mondawmin Mall: Stuck in the Suburbs

The Rouse Company built this mall in 1956 just as Urban America began to crumble. As you'll soon see Mondawmin Mall has more lives than a cat. When General Growth bought the Rouse Company in 2004 for a deal worth $12 Billion Mondawmin Mall came with the package. Almost immediately after the ink was dry General Growth began a strategy to renovate this mall.
General Growth is planning a $70 million renovation to one of America's first suburban shopping malls in a big city.
Mondawmin Mall opened in 1956 in Northwest Baltimore to a rapidly changing Baltimore both racially and economically. Mondawmin Mall mimicked suburbia almost from the get go with surface level parking spaces and wide pedestrian unfriendly roads that seperate the mall from the communities it serves. Sears was the mall's only anchor. Like I said earlier Urban America was begining to crumble and in 1973 Sears closed its doors. Whether the Sears space was demolished or turned into additional mall space I have no idea but that was a big blow for Mondawmin and the communities it serves. Rouse did a modest renovation to the mall in 1981 but the biggest boost was the Metro Subway Station that opened in 1983.
As more the subway expanded in length (from Owings Mills to Johns Hopkins) more foot traffic past by the mall. The subway is also a transfer point to for bus riders making Mondawmin even more visible. As far as attracting another department store anchor to replace Sears that proved to be a difficult sell. Non traditional mall tenants began to show up and that actually boosted foot traffic more so than one would think. I write for Dead on occasion and when non traditional tenants show up that signals the death of a mall. Mondawmin prooved to be the exception to the rule. The MVA opened a branch on a pad lot near Tioga Parkway. In the mall non traditional tenants include Social Services, Total Health Care, U.S. Army Recruiting Station, a rehab center, a parole center, and a Bail Bonds Center. These are vital community resources that add foot traffic to the more traditional mall tenants. They include Rainbow, New York & Company, Radio Shack, Ashley Stewart Woman, and Foot Locker.
With the exception of the 1981 renovation Rouse barely touched this mall. With General Growth as the new owners they are bringing in the in the big guns. Food Fare, was demolished to make way for a new Shoppers Food Warehouse, Target, and Marshalls. Two sit down restaurants are in the works as well. The mall will receive a complete makeover with new floors , lighting, and exterior facade. All this investment would be great for a suburban mall but we're in the city and Mondawmin, General Growth and the City need to realize this.
What's I'm proposing is a comprehensive Master Plan that includes Mondawmin Mall, Mondawmin, Liberty Square, Burleigh-Leighton, and Parkview Woodbrook. The new big box stores would remain intact and would have frontage to Liberty Heights Avenue and the subway stop. The mall would be transformed from an indoor complex to an outdoor lifestyle center not unlike what was done at Hunt Valley Mall. There would be a small surface lot just inside Liberty Heights Avenue but almost all parking for the mall and everything else I'm proposing would be underground. The mall has a huge surface parking lot that is dead real estate. The lots facing Gwynns Falls and Tioga Parkways would be developed into condos or apartments with ground floor retail. Warwick Avenue would be extended north of Gwynns Falls Parkway and cut through the new development and meet Liberty Heights Avenue. Speaking of Gwynns Falls and Tioga Parkways they're too wide for the urban development I'm proposing. Both roads would be narrowed and integrated into the neighborhoods that surround through sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike lanes.The neighborhoods surrounding Mondawmin Mall will instantly transformed be into sought after real estate gold. It's already happening whether anyone knows it or not. The neighborhood of Mondawmin has a healthy neighborhoods initiative that will give home owners low interest loans to renovate their homes and it's being taken advantage of. In the neighborhoods surrounding Mondawmin Mall the housing stock needs work but it doesn't need to be demolished and redeveloped. Slowly renovating row homes takes more time than tearing and rebuilding but housing stock should be saved whenever necessary. Healthy neighborhoods should be extended into Parkview Woodbrook and Burleigh Leighton to aid in their transformation. In these neighborhoods there is ample land for additional development that will be of a higher density than its older cohort but it since it's near the Mondawmin Metro Stop it will pay off.After World War II during the flight to the suburbs, like most American cities tried itself to suburbanize. This can not be more true for Mondawmin Mall. But with new high density urban investment and development in almost all areas surrounding it would be detrimental for Mondawmin Mall to remain stuck in the suburbs.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I Like the Baltimore Regional Rail System Plan

All Photos From Google Earth Unless Otherwise Noted
Photo From the MTA Website
And I welcome the controversy of that statement with open arms. Transportation experts, City planners, and myself have conversed and expressed our opinions and made adaptations to the plan. Politicians however have all but shelved the plan only for a portion of the red line to be built between now and 2035. Instead they favor funding billion dollar automobile oriented sprawl encouraging transportation projects that will just add to the existing congestion.

If you haven't read the Baltimore Regional Rail System Plan I suggest you do so. What this post is dedicated to is how I would tweak the plan to make it picture perfect, at least in my eyes. For one I'd fully fund the plan and put all lines underground to further decrease congestion.
One tweak that has been thought up by Gerald Neily, one of the boldest and most out spoken transit advocates with the credentials to boot as well as my blogging and planning mentor (whether he knows it or not) was to extend the Green Line southeast instead of northeast. True, there is much denser development on the horizon in that part of town and heavy rail transit would suit it well but I'd make the entire Red Line extend in that direction so the Green Line would still be extended northeast.It appears that extending the Green Line northeast has it running along Perring Parkway. Now Perring Parkway is very sparsely populated cue to the fact that it was supposed to be a full fledged highway known as the Perring Freeway. Mount Pleasant, I believe is evidence of this, clearing the land to make way for interchanges that were never built.

My tweak would have the Green Line running under Harford Road. The Neighborhoods of Greater Lauraville and Belair Edison all gained population between 1990 and 2000. Harford Road is ready for a make over, it's currently a wide suburban boulevard with lack luster auto mobile oriented shopping centers with surface level parking. I think Harford Road should be redeveloped with transit oriented mid rise high density buildings with ground floor retail and either apartments and offices above. The road itself can be narrowed for on street parking and landspaced medians. Although Belair Road won't be oriented around the Green Line like Harford Road I think it should be redeveloped in the same way. I have made it very clear that I'm against the Billion dollar I-95 and that Billion Dollars should be spent on rail transit, but hey it's not like the existing transit is over crowded or anything like that. Oh wait, it is.
Other tweaks I'd make is with the Purple Line and Green Line. They almost cross paths in Upton. I'd make this a transfer to encourage reinvestment in Upton.

The Orange and Purple Lines don't incorporate themselves in the city landscape as much as they should. It's a delicate balance since they're MARC and or Amtrak lines as well. The Orange Line for one should have a Mount Winans Stop.

The Purple Line can have a Wilkens Avenue/Violetville stop where gentrification may not be far down the road.

The Green Line needs a Broadway Overlook stop because I foresee massive high density redevelopment in that area.
Still more tweaks, for some odd reason the Blue Line will in addition to its current Howard Street alignment will branch off to join the Yellow Line along Calvert Street from the Inner Harbor to Penn Station. Then the Blue Line will turn west and rejoin its current alignment. Why spend the extra money on this?

The Yellow Line can serve this portion on its own. Penn Station can be a transfer point from the Yellow Line to the Blue Line but the Blue Line doesn't have to go along for the whole ride, it can stay along Howard Street or move to Eutaw St.

Speaking of the Blue Line, when it's being berried underground I would move the Lexingtion Market Station to make a true transfer point that's long over due.

The final tweak includes the Green Line once again. It's above grade level along Wabash Avenue which I of course will have berried underground. I have a whole post about Wabash Avenue and the development that will follow after the line and parking lots are berried underground. After Northern Parkway the line, underground will turn east and align itself directly undeer Reisterstown Road. This will help revitalization efforts of the Glen and Fallstaff communites and Pikesville Town Center in the County. I will dedicate an entire post to Upper Reisterstown Road and all its potential.

Now I know the Original title of this post was that I like the Baltimore Regional Rail System Plan but I sure have a lot of adjustments I would make to it. I still like the plan and I think the adjustment would make it work flawlessly. Now lets get the thing built before 2035.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Has Charles Center Already Run Its Course?

Ah Charles Center, the Great Grand Daddy of urban redevelopment in Baltimore may have worn out its welcome.
Back in the 1950s Baltimore's Skyline and Downtown was out of date and in need of redevelopment. Urban America was entering its decline and every city had a different way of trying to stem it. Baltimore decided to invest in its Central Business District. Baltimore wanted to keep its upper class jobs centralized. Although this was successful Baltimore's industrial jobs became decentralized and or disappeared and its residents of all income levels fled.
The Boundaries of Charles Center are Saratoga St. to the north Liberty St. to the west, Charles St. to the east, and Lombard St. to the south. This makes the site that would be Charles Center appear to be square or rectangular in shape. With Liberty St. running diagonally the site is actually triangular in shape. Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro, Jr. accepted the plan with open arms in 1958.
Charles Center was to be built in phases. In the late 1950s and early 1960s the demand for office space in the city wasn't huge. Tenants took large portions of buildings to keep occupancy up and tenants were occupying Charles Center as a big favor to someone whether on the public or private sector. Urban planning at the time as it does emphasized on walk ability. The buildings had sky ways connecting them together and courtyard plazas tying the buildings together.
With Charles Center still not finished in 1973 when Mayor Theodore R. McKeldin decided to turn things up a notch. He thought that a public and private partnership could be used to redevelop the Inner Harbor the same way with Charles Center. The Inner Harbor plan was also accepted with open arms. Charles Center did not encourage revitalization of neighboring communities like the Inner Harbor did. Mayor William Donald Schaefer introduced the $1 row home imitative to revitalize surrounding communities which was a stellar success that I think should be duplicated in neighborhoods that are currently blighted.
With focus still on the harbor, Charles Center was deemed complete in 1986. It was meant to be and may still be a major transportation hub. When the metro subway opened in 1986 it ran from Owings Mills to Charles Center. The Charles Center station located under Calvert Street was meant for another line to connect to it (The Yellow Line?). The metro subway was quickly extended to Johns Hopkins Hospital. In the 1990s, the west side of Downtown received what it thought was a major shot in the arm with the addition of the Central Light Rail Line. Downtown the Light Rail runs at street level along Howard Street. The Light Rail has a Charles Center stop but being on Howard Street rather than Calvert Street it could not be a transfer station to the metro subway. Come to think of it there aren't any transfer points for Baltimore's two rail lines.
The Inner Harbor began draining business and vitality from Charles Center very slowly from the get go. Businesses both commercial and retail began moving southeast to near the water. The Inner Harbor became the city's show case. Big mixed use development projects like Harbor Place Inner Harbor East and Silo Point that the Inner Harbor spawned only made the trend to continue.Charles Center was always meant to be almost exclusively office space with ground floor retail, (there is an apartment building in the complex but that wasn't really planned.) Planners of the late 1950s and early 1960s couldn't have possibly predicted the desirability of high density mixed use development. Another thing they couldn't have predicted was that Baltimore wouldn't have redeveloped its rail transit system better after the demise of the streetcar. Parking Garages are now a big and in my opinion unwelcome part of the city's landscape.
Now what does the future hold for Charles Center? Well the trend of mixed use developments near the harbor will continue. Canton Crossing, Westport and Locust Point are a few of them that come to mind. Turning Pratt Street to allow two way traffic will continue to draw people away from Charles Center because they won't go above Pratt Street where they currently don't go above Lombard Street. Earlier in the post I said that surrounding communities haven't benefited from Charles Center. Now these communities are becoming for a new generation of city dwellers. The West Side of Downtown, Mount Vernon, Bolton Hill, Station North, Seton Hill and the State Center redevelopment proposal will be sure to bring attention back to Charles Center.
The answer for Charles Center is if you can't beat 'em join 'em and that what it's essentially is being done. Buildings that were once for offices are beginning to become hotels, apartments, condos, and tourist attracting retail. Then there are the plazas, they have become outdated and are in need of a 21st century make over. One lessen about Charles Center that the new developments can learn is underground parking garages. With the density of Charles Center and the congestion and lack of parking spaces the buildings were forced to dig parking garages, something I'm in favor of. As far as the initial question I posed "Has Charles Center Already Run Its Course?" Not in this life time!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Will Big Projects Produce Catalysts For Surounding Blight?

Baltimore has and has had a lot of big development and redevelopment proposals on the table over the years. They have delivered results beyond the expectations of officials on both the private and public sectors. Now these results are in some cases only limited to the land the new development sits on or in some cases has produced massive reinvestment and redevelopment in neighboring blighted communities. Here I intend to examine each monster development past present and future to see if it produced or will produce a catalyst for its surrounding neighbors.
The Inner Harbor is the mac daddy of them all. We all know that its surroundings far and wide have benefited spectacularly from its transformation.The Hippodrome, the whole Westside of Downtown's transformation in my opinion can be attributed to its renovation and reopening. Not Camden Yards.
HOPE VI developments, not so much in fact they have had the opposite effect. Displaced public housing residents flooded the surrounding neighborhoods creating more blight. The exceptions are Albermarle Square, Broadway Overlook, and the soon to be Orchard Ridge.
Canton Crosssing, so far the First Mariner Bank Tower has been the only completion of this but Canton had already made a comeback when Canton Crossing began.
Camden Crossing, well someone had to take the risk and move development west of MLK Boulevard and into Pigtown. Pigtown or to the yuppies Washington Village has made an amazing turn around in the past few years and Camden Crossing with the combination of Washington Boulevard a main street and being voted the best neighborhood in the city have played a big part in it.
Mount Clare Junction Shopping Center, although mere blocks west of gentrifying Pigtown the mixed use development has not spurred much investment in the Mount Clare neighborhood. In fact the shopping center itself has struggled with vacancies and low attendance.East Baltimore Biotech Park, they have hit the nail right on the head with this one. From Middle East, to McElderry Park, to Old Town Mall there has been interest in development and rehabbing.
State Center Redevelopment, with the demolition of McCulloh Homes, the joining together of Upton, Madison Park, Bolton Hill, and Mount Vernon with a brand new transit oriented mixed income development I don't see how it will fail. I have hopes that this will spur revitalization of Pennsylvania Avenue as a vibrant cultural and retail district.
West Baltimore MARC Station, when the red line is built when it intersects with the West Baltimore MARC Station there will be a huge demand for Transit Oriented Development. This is currently a blighted area that may be a hard sell but you know what they say; location location location. It's currently located right in between Downtown and the new Uplands.
Station North, just label a blighted area an "Arts and Entertainment District" and watch the gentrification begin. Artists get tax breaks to work in abandoned buildings and they put in the sweat equity to raise property values. There is however, a double edged sword to Station North. Gentrification has been so swift that the artists who put in the sweat equity and turned this neighborhood into a cultural destination are now priced out and the yuppies are moving in. Just look at the $400,000 town homes being built on Calvert St. The good news is, Baltimore has many blighted areas that can be dubbed "Arts and Entertainment Districts."
Vistas on the Lake, new upscale condos in Reservoir Hill overlooking Druid Hill Park. This is the first time upscale and Reservoir Hill were mentioned in the same sentence. Although it has some of Baltimore's prettiest row homes the neighborhood, although gentrifying by "a new generation of urban dwellers" has a huge of amount of land and buildings that have federal subsidies on them that can hold back additional development on the scale of "Vistas on the Lake."
Westport, Patrick Turner set his sights on the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River with a plan. The plan, is to duplicate the investment, development, and gentrification of the Inner Harbor. It seems easy enough, Westport was once just like the Inner Harbor. They were both industrial waterfronts. Industry has abandoned Westport leaving room for new residential, retail, office, and hotels. Patrick Turner will do just that. As far as existing Westport residents, investors and rehabbers have been knocking on their doors getting them to sell low so in a few years after the gentrification they can sell high and make a fortune. My advice to existing Westport residents would to hold on to your homes as long as you can because you will be rolling in the cash in a few years.
Photo From Developer Website
Waterview Overlook, Cherry Hill has a much smaller piece of developable on the waterfront land than Westport. Even though Cherry Hill consists almost exclusively of public housing and low income housing there is a waiting list to pay for $300-400k to live in Cherry Hill.
Montgomery Park, this Baltimore land mark that was a warehouse for Montgomery Ward has been lovingly restored and put to productive use. Sadly it stands alone as far as investment goes. The Carroll Camden Industrial Park is as blighted as ever.
Gateway South, between the Carroll Camden Industrial Park and Pigtown and their surounding highways this will be a slam dunk and may spur redevelopment of the Carroll Camden Industrial Park that Montgomery Park hasn't been able to.

As far as the original question I posed Will big projects produce catalysts for surounding neighborhoods, well it depends on the project and the neighborhood. Sometimes you just have to be at the right place at the right time.

Monday, November 5, 2007

What Does the Mortgage Crisis Hold for Baltimore?

The United States has dug itself into a big hole. Buying overpriced and inflated homes they can't afford. From 2002-2005 the prices of homes have sky rocketed due in no small part to record low interest rates and new shaky interest only mortgages. Buyers now more than ever have to depend on the assumption that their homes value will increase. Well guess what happens when you assume. Now that home prices aren't going up and since so many people (nearly 1/3 of all new mortgages are interest only) they haven't paid down the actual price of their home.

Baltimore is no different. During the years in question 2002-2005 many Baltimore neighborhoods gave gentrified. Canton, Pigtown, Reservoir Hill, and Patterson Park have now seen an alarming number of foreclosures. New development, whether here or in neighboring communities have also played a part in the inflation and therefore the foreclosures. In the not so distant past, land and the homes that sit on them were dirt cheap, no pun intended. The practice of flipping one or homes has become common practice. Flippers have often lost it all because they need to get rid of the house or houses to save their skin. Baltimore's up and comers are now in Jeopardy for the time being.
Charles Village for one has scaled back numerous development plans including turning $700,000 condos into rentals. The Westport development may have to go on the back burner for a while too.Now don't fret too much, it's not all bad. Baltimore still has a pent up demand for new quality afdordable housing.Baltimore can and already has started to look else where. This is a great oppurtunity to show case neighborhoods that have, for too long gone under the radar. Some such neighborhoods and developments include: Athena Square in Greektown, The new Uplands, Orchard Ridge (Freedom Village/Claremont), Station North, The new O'Donnell Heights, The new Park Heights, Penn North, McElderry Park, and Middle East. All of these neighborhoods either are or will be offering new housing at relatively affordable prices. New housing is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to affordable housing. Neighborhoods around the harbor owe their sucess almost exclusively to homesteading. The option of homesteading can make or break an older neighborhood trying to rebound.
More good news, when the housing market turns around again, development in Baltimore's glitzy neighborhoods will continue where it left off while at the same time other neighborhoods have turned during the mortgage crisis. In the long term it's a win win for Baltimore, it may be hard to picture but just think of the year 2010, it will have panned out just like I said.