Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Downtown Westside Redevelopment:The One You've Been Waiting For

For decades City Planners and developers alike have promised to reinvest and redevelop the Westside of Downtown. There have been a few success stories mainly the ones closest to Camden Yards or the Inner Harbor. With the revitalization of the Inner Harbor, Mount Vernon, Bolton Hill, Seton Hill, Ridgley's Delight, and now the State Center TOD and Station North the Westside has become a blighted donut center with gentrification being the outer portions. Lets fill in the Donut once and for all and I think I have the plan that will do just that. This is it, the one you've been waiting for.

The Westside went down the tubes as Suburban Shopping Malls dominated the landscape. Although Baltimore based Department Stores still considered their Downtown branches to be their flagship stores, their suburban counterparts carried higher end merchandise due to the higher spending power of suburbanites. Baltimore based Departments Stores, the anchors of Downtown's Westside closed down all together, were eaten up by a merger, or decided to focus solely on their suburban branches. This left the Westside of Downtown in shambles with nothing but low rent retail with equally priced merchandise. The Westside of Downtown, although it was Baltimore's retail Mecca and it housed clothing factories it wasn't known for having a large housing stock, this could have been a catalyst in its rapid decline or if more housing were there it could have made the decline even faster. That's a question that may never be answered.
On the suburban side of things retail kept evolving. First it was Strip Centers, then it was enclosed Shopping Malls, then it was Big Box Shopping Centers, now it's Lifestyle Centers. Life Style are a blend of Big Box and Shopping Malls all outdoors. Many of these allow cars to drive right through the middle of the Shopping Center (Think Avenue at White Marsh.) Although Life Style Centers still feature acres upon acres of surface parking like their predecessors, they bring back an urban approach to retail that hasn't been seen for generations. Now what does Suburban retail have to do with the Westside of Downtown? Everything!

As I've stated in previous posts, the goal for struggling Cities should be to incorporate suburban conveniences in an urban setting. Capitalizing on the strengths of both and letting the weaknesses of them both fall to the wayside. Call me crazy but I consider the Westside of Downtown to be a giant Life Style Center and a giant TOD District. This allows for maximum density allowing not only lots of retail but housing and offices to go above said retail. This will create a critical mass to patronize the retail on a local level while at the same time making the Westside of Downtown a world class destination like the Inner Harbor.

Now what type of tenants should the Westside of Downtown try to attract? Well, look no further than your local Shopping Mall, Big Box Center, or Lifestyle Center. Where will the Westside find its clientele? Well look no further than it surrounding neighborhoods. They're all College Towns in their own rights. UMB is to the south, UMB Mount Royal to the north, Mount Vernon to the east, Hopkins University and both Charles Village and Station North just beyond Mount Royal. Mall stores are generally geared towards teenagers and College Students.

Although I consider the Westside to be one giant Retail District, I have divided it into several sub districts. These sub districts feed off of each other and complement each other just like in Shopping Malls. The first is the Garment District it will be located in the southside of the "core" of the Westside. It will be located in the following Lxington St. to the south, Saratoga St to the north, Greene St. to the east, and Arch St. to the west. Another block would Saratoga St. to the south, Mulberry St. to the north, Paca St. to the east, and Greene St. to the west. Yet another block in the Garment District would be Saratoga St. to the south, Mulberry St. to the north, Eutaw St. to the east, and Paca St. to the west. The last block of the Garment District will be Saratoga St. to the south, Mulberry St. to the north, Howard St. to the east, and Eutaw St. to the west. Since these stores don't require a large footprint redevelopment will be minimal. There has been some demolition here and there will need to infill development.

Stores in the Garment District should include Aeropastle, Martin & Osa, Hollister, Banana Republic, Abercrombie & Fitch, Mens Wearhouse, Express, Oakley, Foot Action, American Eagle, Eddie Bauer, PacSun, J. Crew, Bebe, Victoria's Secret, Forever 21, The Gap, Fossil, Delia's, Limited Too, The Limited, Foot Locker, New York Company, Chicos, Lucky Brand Jeans, Talbotts, Guicci, DKNY, Fossil, Ann Taylor, and White House Black Market.

There's a Parking Garage at the southeast corner of Paca and Fayette with a large retail space that's vacant. I think an H&M will fit the bill perfect. There will be high rise apartments and condos above all buildings in the Garment District.

Next comes the Housewares/Electronics District this may have superblocks due to the size of showrooms but we'll try to make showrooms two or more stories if this becomes an issue. The Housewares/Electronics District will include Mulberry St. on the south and Franklin St. on the north it will extend from Greene St. to Parke Ave. Stores will include LaZ Boy, The Room Store, Havverty's, Jennifer Convertables, Ethan Allan, Ikea, Willams Sonoma, Brookstone, The Apple Store, Pier 1 Importants, Pottery Barn, Yankee Candle Company, Origins, FYE, and Offenbachers. This area will also play host to independant Boutiques that carry Housewares. The buildings here will be high rises with apartments and condos the closer one gets to Greene St. and Offices the closer one gets to Park Ave.
The next district will be the Restaurant District. This is the G-Rated name for it the true name will be Hell's Kitchen. Baltimore's Hell's Kitchen will be centered along Eutaw St. and its intersection with Madison and Monument Sts. with frontage on the westside of Howard St. This is where graduates of Baltimore International College can open up their own Restaurant or Celebrity Chefs who have overlooked Baltimore will have a great place to discover Charm City.
Just below Hell's Kitchen will be "Westside Square" this will be a public square that will link the Green Seton Hill Neighborhood to the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon. Its borders will be Eutaw St. to the west, Howard St. to the east, Centre St. to the south, and Monument St. to the north. Condos and apartments will be on the above floors.
On Howard St. across from Hell's Kitchen will be Jewelers Row. This is where Jewelers like Jared's the Galleria, Zales, Kay Jewelers, Chipp Smyth, Swarvinski, Fire & Ice, White Hall Co., Littmans Jewelers, and Reeds Jewelers. Condos and Apartments will be on the above floors.
Just above Jewelers Row sits the former shell of Antiques Row. There are still a few Antique in operation on this otherwise desolate block on the east side of Howard St. across from Maryland General Hospital. This suggests there may still be a market for a viable Antiques Row if even merchants came back and a critical mass of population may be able to support it.
Speaking of Maryland General Hospital it's time the Hospital expanded. This is not me talking there are plans to renovate and expand the Hospital. I think the expansion should be west of the existing building with Eutaw St. frontage. The existing buildings here will have to be torn down to accommodate this.
The northeast corner of Howard and Franklin St. will play host to four Hotels. A Clarion, Embassy Suites, a Marriott Courtyard, and a Westin.Caddy Cornered from these Hotels will be the rebuilt Congress which in my opinion shouldn't have been torn down in the first place. There are apartments being built on part of the site but they will be surrounded by the new Congress.
Across from the four Hotels sits the shell of the Mayfair Theatre. This cannot and will not be torn down if I have any say in it which I don't but what I'm proposing is what I proposed in my previous about Movie Theatres in Baltimore. It will be a ten screen Multiplex showing first run movies. It will still feature the old Mayfair Marquis although a chain Cinema will run it.
It will be expanded in the back to Eutaw St. and to the sides to Franklin St. and the Old Western High School (now condos.)
Next we travel south to the Department Stores around Lexington St. The Grand Dame that was once the Flagship location for Hutzlers stands almost completely vacant. This will be a mall in and of itself. It could fit a Dicks Sporting Goods, Staples, DSW Shoe Warehouse, JoAnn Fabrics and a Ross Dress for Less.
In fact, it will have a similar rebirth than that of its sister store in Towson.
The Old Brager Gautmans will be a Barnes and Noble. Just east of the Stewarts Building will be a Bally Total Fitness.
The upper side of Lexington Mall will be called "Organic Row" which will house Health Food Stores like GNC, The Vitamin Shoppe, and possibly Davids Natural Market a long time staple in Columbia that keeps growing that could be talked into opening a Baltimore Store. Just above Organic Row will be the R US towers The first three floors will house an R US Store; Toys R US, Babies R US, and Kids R US.Next we come to the Super Pampered Block. This will be located across from Lexington Market on the east side of Eutaw St. and will be home to upscale Day Spas and stores such as Rafets Hair Masters, Nail Trix, Bubbles Salon & Spa, MAC, Sephora, Bath & Body Works, Faces, and Merle Norman.
On the other side of Lexington Market sits a three story parking garage where there's a proposal to build 23 Town homes, 2 100 unit towers and 50 unit tower. This is known as the Residences at Lexington Market. I believe this has been shelved due to the economy but I think it should be revived when the time is right.
South of Lexington Market is the perfect location for a transit hub. Both the Light Rail and the Subway have stops here which are Baltimore's only two rail lines. The Red Line is not set to have a stop here but in my Red Line plan it does which bumps the number of rail lines stopping here to three. This will also be the beginning and end point for several bus routes. A Taxi stand can also be located here.Speaking of transit there are tunnels under Howard St. currently occupied by the CSX but they will have to vacate. After that, the Light Rail should use those tunnels and Howard St. should be made into a two way street its entire length to ease the burden of its neighboring streets.
The intersection of Fayette and Greene Sts will be made into neighborhood retail anchored by a Harris Teeter Superkmaret and a Rite Aid Pharmacy (the same Rite Aid Pharmacy currently located at the Townes at the Terraces)and neighborhood conviences such as a Coffee House, a Dry Cleaner, a Wine Cellar, smaller restaurants like Chipotle, Chick Filet, Quiznos, Pei Wei Asian Diner, and Boston Market.

The last section of the Westside is, at least in its current condition, everybody's least favorite. It's the ugly sprawling and outdated Social Security Complex. Good News! It's vacated its fortress and moving to the new State Center! Since it doesn't fit in the new Wetside I'm proposing the whole complex; buildings and garages will hot the wrecking ball. Would you miss it? Neither will I. Now, the development potential here is almost too good to be true. One market segment I left out of the Westside was kids clothing stores. This will be called the "Junior Garment District" it will include stores like; The Children's Place, Gap Kids, Abercrombie Kids, Old Navy, Pumpkin Patch, Kids Foot Locker, Janie & Jack, Lucky Brand Jeans, Icing by Claires, Hot Topic, The Disney Store, Nautica Kids, Build a Bear, Baby Gap, and Club Libby Lu.

Now as I've stated the New Westside will be high rises whether they be brand new buildings or existing buildings that will be expanded upward which will house Apartments, Ccondos, or Offices. Now, there have been some residential conversions worth mentioning. I don't know how successful they are because of the economy and the slow pace of other development projects and ones that have been scrapped all together. In its current state the Westside hasn't become the draw planners had been hoping for. These projects include;

The Old Western High School,

The Old Hects Building,

The Sailcloth Factory,


Camden Court,

The Atrium (built on the grounds of the former Hoschold Kohn Building),

and the Old Stewarts Building.

Another project of note is Avalon at Centerpoint. Centerpoint was supposed to be a superblcok developed by Bank of America. Due to Bank of America's financial woes they sold off Centerpoint and its future is undetermined. Avalon at Centerpoint appeared to have jumped the gun on this one.

Well that's it, the one you've been waiting for. Now why is this the one you've been waiting for? It's not too comprehensive and it's not too small either. It's comprehensive yet it examines every parcel of land at the same time and determines what will best suit it. It doesn't redevelop one building and let its neighbors remain blighted, it tackles everything. Demolition is minmial compared to other plans which will make preservationists happy. It tackles traffic issues and creates a multi modal transit hub at Lexington Market where three lines meet. It creates a critical mass of residents and workers to support all the new retail while making it a regional draw as well. It puts five Hotels in the middle allowing tourists to experince the New Westside as well. It connects itself to its surrounding neighorhoods; Charles Center, The Inner Harbor, Seton Hill, Mount Vernon, UMB,and the State Center. Most importantly, it takes the conviences of Suburbia and puts them in an urban setting building upon the strengths of both and letting the weaknesses of them both fall to the wayside. This was it! The One You've Been Waiting For!


James McBee said...

I've been reading many of your posts, and I have to say that I agree with most of them. This one, however, I am not on board with at all. Why the obsession with chain retail? Chains are not what make a city. They add no character, and every major study has found that they add less to an economy than comparable local businesses. I'm not saying we should ban them, and in my weaker moments I find myself wishing that we had a Trader Joes, but on the whole I think Baltimore should model itself on Austin when it comes to retail and focus on attracting small business and fostering local entrepreneurship. I'd like to see a "keep Baltimore weird," campaign, like Austin has. Frankly Baltimore is the weirder city by far. Anyway, we definitely could use more stores (especially good grocery stores), and a chain here and there isn't the end of the world, but if Bmore turns into a shopping mall I will loose my last reason for staying here. I think most of those who have toughed it out here for years would agree with me, that we don't want to see the city turn into another anywhere USA.

Spence Lean said...

Great point you've brought up, one reason I chose chains for the Westside of Downtown is because chains attract outsiders. Chains have a national sometimes international drawing power that mom & pop stores just don't have. The Westside, had always been Baltimore's retail mecca and for it to get the foot traffic it needs to back fill its buildings, it has to be chains. When someone is thinking about relocating somewhere they'll think to themselves where's the local?..... Baltimore City doesn't have that so Baltimore is loosing out on those potential residents to the County. The Westside of Downtown is currently a no man's land so adding chains wouldn't take weirdness away from Baltimore. I love the weirdness of Baltimore but to understand you have to live here first. Once people have shopped the chains then they'll discover everything that makes Baltimore what it is. But they have to be drawn here by something other than simply that. I don't want Baltimore to turn into anywhere USA any more than you do but I want the population to grow and making a population grow means appealing to the masses, that's what caused the flight to the suburbs and that's how Baltimore needs to fight. In this case appealing to the masses means chains.