Monday, June 30, 2008

Can Big Boxes be Integrated Into Existing Urban Fabric?

Answer: Yes
Now here's a hot button issue that can determine a City's marketability to outsiders and residents who may flee for the suburbs. One thing the suburbs have that older Cities like Baltimore don't is land for "Bog Box" retail. Those suburban retail drags that have all the chain store like Wal Mart, Target, Home Depot, Bed Bath and Beyond, Petsmart, DSW Shoes, Staples, Marshalls, Trader Joes, Costco, Best Buy, Office Depot, Dicks Sporting Goods , Toys R US, The Room Store, Linens and Things, 20 Screen Movies Theaters, and the list goes on.
Baltimore City has done a good job in attracting some Big Box style retail within its urban fabric most notably the Office Depot at Pratt and President Sts. and Lockwood Place at Pratt St. and Gay St. that includes a Best Buy and a Filene's Basement with a P.F. Changs and a Panera Bread.Other sites of Big Box Retail in the city are suburban like roads. They include Mondowmin Mall, Reisterstown Road Plaza, and Dundalk Avenue. There aren't any multiplex Movie Theaters in the city the closest would be the Rotunda in Hampden/Roland Park/Keswick with two screens. Also perhaps the most laughable urban planning failure since civilization; the Wal Mart and Sams Club in Port Covington. I Believe the Sams Club has closed and the Wal Mart may not be far behind. On the drawing board is a Target and Harris Teeter for Canton. Locust Point is also set to receive a Harris Teeter.I have done posts on the state of the suburban retail drags that run through the city and how they should be upped in the density category and Port Covington forget it, that's Waterfront Property. For Baltimore, it needs a centralized and established retail district that has the "urban grid" infrastructure to support high density retail typically found in suburban big box centers.
Hey wait a minute? Isn't the Westside of Downtown supposed to be Baltimore's retail district? Why yes I do believe it is and wouldn't you know it? There's lots of vacant and underutilized land and buildings built with the "urban grid" infrastructure. Ladies and Gentlemen Boys and Girls I think we have a match.
The Westside of Downtown was once the premier shopping destination for Baltimoreans and Baltimorans alike. Lexington and Howard St. was the center of it all with three Department Stores flanking its intersection. Two of the three, Stewarts and Hechts have been converted but the gigantic Hutzler's building remains vacant. This building along with its adjacent parking structure can be easily converted to a few "big box" type stores on the lower floors with offices or residences on the top floors.One block north of the Hippodrome on Eutaw St. can be redeveloped into a multiplex movie theater to complement its newly restored neighbor to the south. Further up Euatw, Howard, and Paca Streets there's still more vacant blocks that can be turned into big box retail with underground parking and offices or residences above.
Another project of note in the Westside is "The Residences at Lexington Market" (not shown here)this is slated to be built above a parking garage west of Lexington Market with 3 100 units towers with a mix of condos and apartments and 21 town homes. This will certainly put a more upscale twist on Lexington Market.
When it's all said and done The Westside of Downtown will Baltimore's retail mecca once again having evolved with the trends of retail it should play host to host "big box" retailers including Dicks Sporting Goods, Toys R Us, Ross Dress for Less, Kohls, Staples, Wegmans, Bed Bath and Beyond, Linens and Things, Costco, Trader Joes, Borders Books and Music, Michael's Arts and Crafts, Wal Mart, Sam's Club, The Room Store, Petsmart, and Ethan Allan. All stores will fit into the existing "urban grid" with underground parking and offices or residences above further expanding Baltimore's skylne.

Monday, June 23, 2008

East Baltimore: What's Hot, What's Not

East Baltimore, just the twos words alone speak volumes about a struggling section of the city that for decades has dealt on a much grander scales with the ills of urban decay. Now, East Baltimore's sole anchor Johns Hopkins Hospital has taken on the roll of developer by transforming the entire east side of Baltimore from slums into a state of the art Biotech Park, 1500 new and rehabbed mixed income housing units, a Community School, and enhanced retail. Other community amenities include open space, a Day Care Center, and a Community School. Johns Hopkins has developed a sector called the East Baltimore Development Initiative or EBDI for short to sally forth on this ambitious plan.
East Baltimore always consisted of "cookie cutter" row homes with little architectural elements. Houses were built mainly for workers of Bethlehem Steel in Dundalk, The American Brewery, The Breweries and Canneries in Canton, and the shipyards of Fels Point. After the death of Johns Hopkins his will stated that he wanted a University and a Hospital built in his name. Johns Hopkins University is located at the Junction of the Remington, Charles North and Charles Village neighborhoods while Johns Hopkins Hospital is located in the Dunbar Broadway and Middle East neighborhoods near the now former Church Hospital.
As Johns Hopkins Hospital continued to grow two things happened East Baltimore saw an increase in Medical Staff among its residents and outside forces allowed Blacks to live in certain neighborhoods of East Baltimore. Said neighborhoods are what is known today known as Oliver, Broadway East, Berea, Biddle Street, Gay Street, the northern section of Middle East, and Johnston Square. Integration was still almost a century away so the white residents moved out. The demographic shift occurred right around the time the city limit was extended eastward in 1918. Residents moved into new neighborhoods with the "cookie cutter" row homes like Highlandtown, Greektown, Medford, Breoning Manor, and Graceland Park. Since many of these people worked in the factories near these new neighborhoods it worked out well because they lived closer to work.
As the 1940s and 50s rolled around drastic change came about in East Baltimore and Urban America as a whole. Older row homes and tenements became blighted and outdated an influx of poor residents were moving into older neighborhoods as the suburban dream became "affordable" for the middle class. The city, rather than rehab the existing housing stock decided to bulldoze and build Public Housing Complexes in their place. Oldtown, a previously Jewish neighborhood was rebuilt with public housing complexes such as Somerset Homes, Monument House, and LaTrobe Homes. Gay Street has the Section 8 housing complexes of Lester Morton Court and Clay Courts as well as the public housing complex of Somerset Homes Extension. Dunbar Broadway has Douglass Homes. Washington Hill has Broadway Homes and Perkins Homes. Jonestown got Lafayette Courts and Flag House Courts. Near Fort Holabird, Berricks used for Soldiers became the public housing complex known as O'Donnell Heights. The complexes varied in style from row homes, garden apartments, mid rise apartments, and high rise apartments.
Integration was still something of the future at the inception of these complexes, neighborhoods that were white before the complexes were built turned almost completely black over night as the public housing complexes went up. These once stable neighborhoods like Washington Hill, Oldtown, Dunbar Broadway, and Jonestown fell victim to crime, blight, population loss, drugs, and poverty just as soon as the last brick was laid. The new buildings that were supposed to cure the city of these problems only inflated.
The high rises, as everyone is well aware did not survive for very long. By the 1990s it was time for them to come down. First it was Lafayette Courts replaced with the town house and senior apartment building of Pleasant View Gardens, then it was Broadway Homes replaced with the apartment and town home development of Broadway Overlook which utilizes the former Church Hospital building for some of its apartments. Finally it was Flag House Courts which was replaced with Albemarle Square also with apartments and town homes. The new developments have fewer units than their predecessors and in some cases only a fraction of said units are public housing. Formerly stable communities like McElderry Park, Ellwood Park/Monument, and the Southern Portion of Middle East were negatively effected by the closings of the old high rise complexes with former residents moving into those neighborhoods through the "scattered site" program which caused additional white flight, crime, drugs, and blight.Today, East Baltimore is on the threshold for unprecedented change and gentrification fueled by the EBDI and some "Area Master Plans" put forth by the city there are some sections of East Baltimore that are "hot" and some that are "not" and some that will become "hot" in a few short years.

First what's hot
The world renowned Johns Hopkins Hospital is ever expanding its services and acreage.
"The Piano", Just north Hopkins this is the location of the new Biotech Park and the housing that goes with it. The shape of the land mass resembles a grand piano hence the nickname. All existing housing will be demolished.

McElderry Park, Just as soon as it went into decline the real estate market boomed and the housing stock of McElderry Park and Lower Middle East even up to Library Square is being rehabbed by the block. New housing here should be minimal. The EBDI helped the McElderry Park's marketability.Albemarle Square, HOPE VI hit a grand slam with this one. It provides just the right income mix and its location near the Inner Harbor, Little Italy, and Fels Point and in Historic Jonestown make this former slum into a 21st century urban oasis.
Orangeville/Berea, Orangeville is currently an industrial wasteland and the site for the East Baltimore MARC station and a transfer point on the Redline. Orangeville will become a mecca for TOD. Berea will feel the effects of Orangeville's transformation and will experience a mix of new "infill" development and rehabbed row homes.

Library Square, This is poised for enhanced retail, new educational/institutional space, rehabbed housing, and lots more open space and streetspace enchancements. The realignment of Pulaski Highway, Fayette St. and Monument St. should be considered.
Bayview, This will be the Redline's third and final MARC transfer point. Bayview will also benefit from TOD.Greektown, an older row house neighborhood has "Athena Square a new town home development under construction and as many as 1,000 high rise condos and town homes are in the planning stages.Washington Hill, very nice housing stock of older homes with more architectural details than most of East Baltimore. This mixed with co-op housing and the new Broadway Overlook, Washington Hill has something for everyone. There is even a little room for new housing.
Photo From
Preston Place, This new development in the all but abandoned neighborhood of Oliver is bringing hope to residents that their neighborhood can turn around. The development is coming up before their very eyes. Preston Place may be the catalyst needed for Oliver.
Patterson Park, Reinvestment is inching its way north of Patterson Park block by block.
Butchers Hill, Great Housing existing housing stock complemented by "Duncan St. Mews" and "The Townes at Butchers Hill"

What's Not
Perkins Homes, The only public housing development left near the harbor. Demolition and redevelopment is required.
Oldtown, Just like in the 1940s and 50s it's time to completely tear down and rebuild this neighborhood once again. Somerset Homes will definitely hit the wrecking ball and there is talk of LaTrobe Homes demolition. This is all part of a Master Plan in the works for Oldtown Mall, a desolate pedestrian mall that can't be revived. Also in the master plan is talk of demolishing Douglass Homes, Forest St. Apartments, and developing the surface parking lots of Penn Fallsway.
The JFX/I-83 Between Fayette St. and Preston St. has got to come down. The only way the Oldtown Master Plan can be done right (which is to make it an extension of Downtown) would be to separate the barrier between the two which is no doubt the JFX/I-83.
Broadway East/American Brewery, This may be the one part of East Baltimore that can't be revived. Maybe way down the line but it's too desolate and surrounded by urban decay and blight. The entire neighborhood would have to be torn down accept for the Brewery and rebuilt from the ground up, even then will people move back after all these years?
Johnston Square, Many false starts and uncompleted public housing/section 8 developments here. The demolition of the JFX/I-83 will, like in the Oldtown/Penn Fallsway instance will spur new high density development that will push Downtown eastward.

Up & Coming
Highlandtown, the final neighborhood to gentrify with Patterson Park frontage. There is an improving housing stock and old industrial land that's ripe for redevelopment. Highlandtown is also an "Arts and Entertainment District" The Redline will only add interest to this up & comer.
Pleasant View Gardens, Baltimore's first HOPE VI development didn't take off like we would have hoped. Its location near Somerset Homes and Douglass Homes didn't help. It also has way too many public housing units. It needs to broaden its income mix by introducing market rate rentals, subsidized homeownership, and additional market rate homeownership as the new developments replacing Somerset Homes and Douglass homes are built with the same even mix Pleasant View Gardens won't be seen as a life raft in a sea of urban decay.

Kresson, this little known neighborhood serparates Greektown/Bayview from Canton and Highlandtown. It's a thin north south stretch that's mostly industrial with little residential. This is prime for TOD as the Redline will run right through it.
Gay Street, this neighborhood located directly west of Middle East may be a bench mark in how a poor neighborhood should work. It features Somerset Homes Extension which unlike the other development that bares its name is in good shape. Some mild modernization

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Locust Point: Beating the Odds

Development in Locust Point, despite all economic woes is moving along full speed ahead. Harbour Point, Tide Point, Silo Point, Green Harbor Point, the Townes at Locust Point not to mention small infill development and rehabbing old homes. Locust Point is the last frontier in waterfront development on the Inner Harbor. After the build out of Locust Point development will make a "U Turn" to the long neglected Middle Branch.
Locust Point, until very recently was and still is to a lesser extent an industrial port with a small residential component. The residential section was built obviously to house workers in the many plants, factories and shipyards that gave Locust Point its identity. Another attribute of Locust Point was its designation as Baltimore's Ellis Island. Immigrants from all over Europe came through Locust Point and went further up the South Baltimore Peninsula and usually to East Baltimore to seek a better life themselves and their families. Without doubt Locust Point's biggest claim to fame is its place in the war of 1812 where Francis Scott Key saw the American Flag still standing at Fort McHenry and inspired our National Anthem, the Star Spangled Banner.Through the remainder of the 19th and into the middle of the 20th century Locust Point thrived as an industrial hub due to its proximity to the water and B&O Railroad (now CSX lines). Locust Point played host to several industrial uses such as Tide Laundry Soap, Domino Sugar, and B&O Grain Elevator, the tallest and fastest! Several Marine Terminals called Locust Point Home as well. The housing stock in Locust Point was almost as old as the first settlement of Baltimoretown. The below photo is of housing stock that dates back to the Civil War located on Hullins St.
After World War II (I wonder how many paragraphs on this blog start with that) Jobs in this industrial sector began to dwindle due to advent of machines and computers that do the work that several hundred people used to do. That coupled with outsourcing of jobs hit Locust Point, a community whose residents worked primarily in industry particularly hard. Since Locust Point is engulfed by industry on all sides of it finding work for its residents was probably easier than in other communities. Urban decay that hit so many other city neighborhoods didn't hit Locust Point the way it did in almost all of Baltimore. Sure, a boarded up row house and a shuttered neighborhood watering hole weren't unheard of but the residents of Locust Point banded together and whethered the storm. Locust Point was a small enough residential community that everyone knew everyone by name and they had each others' back which it still does to this day.
Today, despite our nationwide economic and real estate woes, Locust Point is experiencing a development boom. Land and buildings that were once used for industry are now being used for residential, office, and retail. The first such development was Tide Point, an old factory that manufactured Tide Laundry Detergent is now a mix of retail and offices.
Silo Point, a former Grain Elevator used by the B&O Railroad that has been turned into luxury apartments. Also part of Silo Point are town homes adjacent to the former elevator. The town homes extend the residential part of Locust Point east towards Fort McHenry via Forte Avenue and parallel streets. Speaking of extending residential boundaries in Locust Point the line between Federal Hill and Locust Point has become blurred. There used to be a wall of industry separating the two neighborhoods but the "wall" has seen lots of redevelopment in both neighborhoods. First, the Locust Point side; there has been Harbour Point(not to be confused with Harbor Point in Fels Point), The Townes at Locust Point, and Green Harbor Point, the city's first "green" community. On the Federal side there's been Harborview, with its lone high rise, low rise condos and town homes with "the pinnacle" section which includes two more high rises coming down the pipeline (Harborview was originally supposed to consist of six high rises, nothing else), Federal Place Town homes, and The Ritz Carlton Residences. Perhaps the biggest reminder of the significance of Locust Point as an industrial haven is the Domino Sugar Plant. No fire or explosion will take it down.
All of these new developments in Locust Point are beating the odds against our current economic situation and may serve as a model on how to continue building despite a recession. How does Locust Point do it? It's just Baltimore's next "Hot Spot" and the last neighborhood that faces the Inner Harbor that hasn't reached build out. Next up; Middle Branch

Monday, June 16, 2008

Historic Jonestown:Not so Historic Anymore

Jonestown, among the first three settlements of Baltimoretown has earned the right to be called Historic Jonestown. Just walk down the streets or take the Heritage Walk Tour and you will see and understand centuries worth of history. Here are some sites that tell you just how much history is in this neighborhood just east of Downtown and north of Little Italy that can be easily overlooked but it's a must see for any history buff.
The Shot Tower, Charles Carroll of Carollton Muesum and Inn, The Flag House, The Civil War Museum, The Lloyd St. Synagogue and Museum (B'nai Israel), the African American History Muesum, and Corned Beef Row all make Historic Jonestown a special part of Baltimore and the nation beyond it. The Shot Tower played an important role in winning the war of 1812, The Flag House helped inspire Francis Scott Key to write the "Start Spangled Banner" The Llyod St. Synagogue is the among the oldest in the nation.
Since the first bricks were laid Jonestown became home to Immigrants from all over Eastern and Southern Europe; Italy, Greece, Poland, The Ukraine, Lithuania, and Russia who came to America through Ellis Island and Baltimore's own Locust Point. They lived in tenement housing sometimes up to 15 people living in one room with no indoor plumbing or heat. They worked in nearby Shipyards, Clothing Factories, Delis, Wholesalers, and Canneries. Although living in working conditions in Jonestown were considered deplorable and disease ridden it was better than the conditions in their home countries, residents still had the American dream to make it big and encouraged their families still left in the old Country to Emmigrate to America. In the case of Jews more well to do German and Austrian Jews sponsored the immigration of fellow Jews in Eastern Europe.
Despite living in poverty Jonestown flourished with Churches and Synagogues, Delis, Bakeries, Public Bath Houses, and Dairy Grocers centered on East Lombard St. from the 1800s up until World War II. As Jews made more money they moved northwest to Bolton Hill and Reservoir Hill making living conditions in Jonestown less crowded. Also the tenements improved with more indoor plumbing and stoves. Jews who moved northwest still came down to Lombard St. to do their grocery shopping seeing as it still had the best Kosher selection outside of New York. African American residents began joining European Immigrants in Jonestown.
During World War II Jonestown became blighted as the housing stock was already 150 years old and the city thought that instead of renovating the existing housing stock it should be knocked down as was the nationwide trend at the time. This was the beginning of the end for Jonestown. In the northeast corner of Jonestown, a Public Housing Project called "Lafayette Courts" was erected in the early 1950s which was segregated to be all black. On Jonestown's southern border just north of Little Italy another Public Housing Project was erected in the middle of Lombard St. named "Flag House Courts" was originally an all White project. It became integrated pretty quickly as the Jewish flight northwest continued. The MLK riots of 1968 resegregated Flag House Courts as an all Black project. These two developments made up almost all of the residential portion of Jonestown. Jonestown was now an all Black neighborhood. After the MLK riots crime hit Jonestown like a ton of bricks. Businesses left in droves and Little Italy walled itself off Jonestown its once formidable neighbor. During the 1980s while the Inner Harbor, a few short blocks away was going through its revival, Jonestown was knee deep in the crack trade and all the violence that goes with it.
During the 1990s public housing high rises across the nation were in a dilapidated state. The Federal Government stepped in to help. Maryland's very own Junior Senator Barbara Mikulski best known for her successful attempt to keep I-83 from extending through Fels Point and Canton and crossing the Inner Harbor drafted the HOPE VI program that provides federal funds for public housing complexes to redevelop into lower density mixed income communities. Both public housing complexes in Jonestown were on the top of the list.
The first to go was Lafayette Courts in the northeast corner of Jonestown. The complex was imploded in 1995 which drew huge fanfare, a parade was even held. In its place is "Pleasant View Gardens." Completed in 1998 Pleasant View Gardens features 338 brand new housing units. 201 public housing town homes, 110 public housing senior mid rise apartments, and 27 market rate homeownership town homes with a daycare center, recreation center, and community center.
It's supposedly a mixed income development but it's almost all public housing. Pleasant View Gardens is already showing signs of decay. The income mix is not broad enough and although the new housing is welcomed some old memories of Lafayette Courts are coming back. Another problem with Pleasant View Gardens its location near several other public housing developments. Those other developments are about to hit the wrecking ball to be replaced with mixed income development and my suggestion for Pleasant View Gardens would be when a public housing residents vacates a town home would be to sell it at market rate to create a broader income mix.In 1998, the same year Pleasant View Gardens was completed, it was decided that Flag House Courts had to go. This new development would capitalize on its proximity to the Inner Harbor, Fels Point, and Little Italy. Developers had learned their lesson with Pleasant View Gardens. This new development dubbed "Albemarle Square" would feature a broader range of housing options. Albemarle Square features apartments and town homes with a mix of Public Housing (130 units), 52 section 8 units, 10 subsidized homeownership, 16 market rate rentals, and 135 market rate homeownership. This changed the whole face of Jonestown it became a neighborhood associated with the Inner Harbor's revival. Little Italy tore down the wall that separated itself from Flag House Courts and is seen as a "hot new address." Albemarle Square has been a huge success.
Now to say that Historic Jonestown is not so historic anymore would be misleading. All of the sites mentioned at the beginning of the post have been preserved for generations to come. However, if one walks the streets of Historic Jonestown you will see almost all new development and the old development you do see is historic sites and a few old homes and factories that quickly being rehabbed. You will also feel safe, something you couldn't say about Jonestown with the high rises. The only thing missing from Jonestown is Corned Beef Row. There are only three Delis along East Lombard St.: Attmans, Lennys, and Weiss. There is land available to build additional Delis to remake the Corned Beef Row that only exists in history.
Historic Jonestown has a lot of history but it also has a bright future.