Monday, December 28, 2009

Orchard Ridge:Recession Proof

It's comforting to know that in the throws of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression there's still housing in Baltimore that's selling like Hot Cakes. What the secret? Well it's a no brainer, quality, safe, affordable housing, located near major highways for an easy commute. Good Affordable Housing is still an undeserved market in Baltimore. In addition to a great community when buying quality affordable housing there are a lot of additional tax credits or first time buyer credits to take advantage of. Now what is the name of this magical land in Baltimore that is supposedly recession proof? Orchard Ridge
Located along Erdman Avenue near Edison Highway, Moravia Road and Interstates 95 and 895 the location location location aspect is pretty firm. However, Orchard Ridge was not always a gleaming new development off 444 Apartments and Town Homes.Before Orchard Ridge, the site was occupied by two blighted public housing developments; Freedom Village and Claremont Homes. Combined the site played host to 752 units 600 in low rises and 152 in a high rise. Currently, part of Claremont Homes still stands with 292 units yet to be demolished. This far east corner of the City, just of Belair Edison hosted other public housing developments whose fate was met in entirely different fashions. First there was Hollander Ridge, which was the City's newest High Rise Complex opening in 1975, it also had the shortest life span having been imploded in 1996 in favor of Office/Industrial Flex Space. Armistead Gardens was and is a neighborhood of bungalows and duplexes. It was once public housing but the residents formed a co-op and bought the neighborhood from the City in the 1950s. Residents of Armistead Gardens have 99 year leases on their homes as part of the co-op.
Now back to the topic at hand. Freedom Village/Claremont became the only public housing development in the area. Although it had begun to suffer from urban decay and blight, it remained contained to itself. No matter, blighted public housing developments in this day and age are being torn down at an alarming rate in Baltimore, many with no plans to redevelop in the future. The Freedom Village/Claremont Homes site did have a plan to redevelop and it's being executed wonderfully.
Orchard Ridge, or the Townes at Orchard Ridge or the Residences at Orchard Ridge depending which section you're speaking of is a picture perfect mixed income community in the making. The first units went up for sale at a time when most developers nation wide were scaling back and or abandoning projects all together. The developers of Orchard Ridge knew the pent up demand for quality affordable housing wouldn't go away with the onset of a housing market fueled recession, if anything the demand will go up.
And so it came to be the recession proof town homes at Orchard Ridge began coming on the market as buildings were completed. They didn't stay on the market long what new home would with prices ranging from the $130s to the $270s? Civil Servants, Teachers, Fireman, Police Officers, Hospitality Workers instantly recognized the dream that slowly eroded America's Middle Class; Home Owenrship. Many people didn't wait until a home was complete to buy. Sections were sold out before the foundations were even poored. This once forgotten section on the eastern end of the City has become a hot bed for new Home Owners in an age of foreclosure and Orchard Ridge, hopefully is just the beginning.
Just south of Orchard Ridge lies Orangeville. Orangeville is an old industrial area that got lost in the post industrial area in the latter half of the 20th century. Its weaknesses can become its strengths, the MARC tracks that run through it can make for the location of an East Baltimore MARC Station, the Red Line will most likely have a stop here, and all the land banking here will make for upscale mixed use TOD. What does all this mean for Orchard Ridge? Orchard Ridge could in fact become linked to Orangeville thus ceasing its Status as a mixed income community. It will become so sought after that original buyers in Orchard Ridge can sell for up to three times what they paid for it ten years down the road.
For now, Orangeville is just a pipe dream and Orachard Ridge from formation in 2008 until its completion in late 2010 can marvel in the fect that it's completely recession proof.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Upper Floors Available

As Baltimore continues to redevelop its Downtown and Harbor the Buildings become mixed use. Some say mixed use is a new trend but I respectfully disagree, mixed use development has been the foundation of the American City since its inception. However, as new mixed use projects come down the pipeline, it's interesting to see that all floors are accounted for. This was the same in neighborhoods but today the upper floors in older retail neighborhood portions remain empty.
A quick definition or of density means growing up not out. That's why the suburbs are traditionally less dense than Cities. When Baltimore's Population peaked at 987,000 in the 1950s every nook and cranny of every building was filled and put to good use. Today, store fronts that have been vacant since the mass exodus to the suburbs are being back filled with ground floor retail. When ground floor retail returns there is often one or two floors in the building that are left vacant. In order for Baltimore to regain its population and vitality these upper floors must be filled. Here are some examples of such.Penn Station, Baltimore's spectacular Rail Travel Welcome Center has at least two vacant upper floors. Luckily, a small Boutique Style Hotel is planned to fill these long vacant floors. Talk about convenient.Hampden, this one's right on the Avenue! Want the hottest address in Hampden? Well whoever owns this building whose ground floor contains several trendy Boutiques can cash in by replacing the second floor windows with glass instead of bricks and turning them into apartments.Forest Park, although the retail that's here could stand to be more upscale, there are plenty of buildings like this along Liberty Heights Avenue with vacant second and or third floors. Some have a larger foot print like this while others are that of a Row House. Retail woes aside, the larger buildings' upper floors would be good for either more Retail or Offices while the Row Houses would be better suited for residences.Highlandtown, Eastern Avenue is the unofficial Main Street of Southeast Baltimore. Why not in the middle of it all? Liberty Income Tax made its sign friendly to Upper Floor Tenants while Security Loan & Jewelry has not. Eastern in Highlandtown has a lot of buildings like Security Loan & Jewelry and not enough like Liberty Income Tax. Hutzler's the Grand Dame Department Store! Other Downtown Department Stores have experienced rebirths as Apartments with fround floor retail and unerground parking. This building is large enough for an enclosed Big Box Mall and what I envision for all six or seven floors. Think Towson Circle which also happened to a Hutzlers. This one's too important to let go of.Coldstream Homestead Montebello, although I'd like to see most of this neighborhood redeveloped, here's an example of ground floor retail along Harford Road with a vacant second floor.Leington St., this picture shows an open business on the ground floor. Lexington St. struggles with keeping even the ground floors of its buildings occupied. However, this posts is about upper floors and most of its upper floors are good for Apartments and Offices.Jonestown, I'm having a hard time calling it Historic Jonestown because so much of it is brand new construction. Attman's Deli, a long time staple of East Lombard St. has had a vacant seond floor for quite some time. For Attman's, this will soon be a moot point because it's building a brand new store on the vacant lot next door. The existing building will be renovated and leased out, all floors! There are more buildings like this along Baltimore St.Pak Real Estate, these clusters of buildings' upper floors won't be hard to fill because their downstairs Neighbor is a Real Estate Office! This located in Station North at North Avenue and Maryland Avenue.Pigtown, along Washington Boulevard new businesses have been popping up over the past few years. This goes along with all the investment in this neighborhood including Camden Crossing. Pigtown is still one of those neighborhoods where the Corner Store reigns king. One aspect of the Corner Store is the Shopkeep living above it, this isn't the case in Pigtown.Parkway Theatre, located in the heart of Station North (Charles St. and North Avenue) this building's lone tenant is a lone New York Fried Chicken. The Station North Master Plan shows a robust rehab of the Parkway Theatre that doesn't include New York Fried Chicken. It does however, show all floors occupied.Reoccupying upper floors of existing buildings is an inexpensive way for Baltimore to regain population and ensure the first floor retail in those buildings maintain a healthy customer base. It's also a good way to keep the wheels in motion during the recession while large projects are on the back burner.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Remington Revisited

When I last discussed Remington I had laid out a Master Plan for the Community to add residents and keep streets safe. Since then, I have spoken with residents both in person and via email about what they want for Remington. It's in line with what I have laid out. They do not want extreme gentrification or redevelopment. Those wishes, even in this economy have proven to be a reality.
Now, that's residential Remington. A few blocks south lies intersections of 24th St, 25th St. Howard St, and Sisson St. This little commercial area lies within Remington's boundaries but isn't always associated with it. It can be called in addition to Remington, South Charles Village, Old Goucher, Charles North, and Station North. Now the name isn't important. What is important is what occupies and may eventually occupy it.
Currently it is occupied by two Car Dealerships and their Service Garages. One is a GM Dealership, the other a Honda Dealership. Both are owned by the same company known as Anderson Automotive. The GM Dealership has been forced to close due to GM's financial hardships. The Honda Dealership, which claims to get most of its business from the County, will move to Hunt Valley to be nearer to its customer base. They may leave a Garage in the City but even with that remaining there will still be a large vacant tract of land. Now, we all know Car Dealerships aren't the most attractive form of retail. Since Car Dealerships are hurting badly we can rest assure that new Dealerships won't be replacing the ones vacated by Anderson's.
Surprisingly, in these struggling economic times we're facing, new development on the Anderson's Site might not be that far done the road. A developer wants to build a Lowes, Home Improvement Warehouse, a Grocery Store, and stores like Staples and Marshalls. They will be served by a large parking deck. On Maryland Avenue, there will be neighborhood retail with new homes over top. If all goes according to plan, this could be a reality by late 2011.
As with any big change it must be looked at very carefully and adjusted when deemed necessary. Like I said before, a parking deck will serve the needs of this new development and that's what will flank 24th St. west of Howard St. Lowes and the Grocery Store will back to 25th St. west of Howard. The front entrances will face the parking deck inward and faux windows will flank 25th St. so as not make the streetscape of 25th St. look like a slab of side walls. It appears that the Staples and Marshalls will be east of Howard St. on 24 th St. and west of Maryland Avenue with a surface lot behind it. I'm not sure if their front doors will face 24th St. or the parking lot. Speaking of Maryland Avenue, between 24th and 25th Sts will be neighborhood retail that will actually face the street. However, the houses built over top of them will not.
There appears to be a common theme here. With a few exceptions nothing seems to face the street rather it faces inward discouraging foot traffic and additional lighting that will warrant. Having grown up in Columbia I've seen what happens when Retail faces inward. Safety concerns rise and Business is lost due to lack of roadside visibility. Columbia has had to redevelop its older Village Centers and its newer ones learned their lesson and were built in an open design that faces the road thus making it safer. I don't believe that the faux windows proposed for the Lowes and Grocery Store on 25th St. will suffice. One big difference between Columbia's Village Centers and the development in Remington is that the Remington Development is still in the planning stages and these potential development errs can be fixed before a single brick is laid.
That being said lets those fix potential errs before they're made. The Solutions are all very simple, build things so that their front doors face the street and not their parking structure or lot. Istead of a wall of faux windows on 25th St. how about real windows and the front doors? Sure customers will have to walk a few extra steps from their cars but traditional urban retail always seems to prevail both in the City and in the Suburbs. On 24th St., it seems that with the naturak slope downward between 25th and 24th St. the parking deck will dominate the landscape. But what if part of the top level of the parking deck were put to good use? Remington, under this plan is having a lot of National Retailers shoved down its throat and it's always prided itself on home grown business. So, why not incorporate that into the design? I'm thinking on Weekends we use a section of the upper parking deck for a Farmers Market and a Seasonal Florist. This will help 24th st. appear more lively and will put a local stamp on what is currently nothing but chains. East of Howard St. on 24th st. I'm not sure if the Marshalls and Staples will face the street or the parking lot. If they don't, they need to. On Maryland Avenue, the neighborhood retail does face the street, lets keep it that way. The homes over top of the retail do not face the street, lets make it so they do. Howard St. above North Avenue (and below it) is a traffic nightmare. I don't know what can be done to fix this but I do think that as the Central Spine of this new development, it should receive streetscape enhancements like brick crosswalks, planted medians, upgraded bus shelters, new traffic signals with "countdown"pedestrian signals should be considered for all streets involved.
Now most of this post obviously focused on the Anderson redevelopment but not much on Residential Remington. One big reason is because Residential Remington is a grass roots effort that's growing very fast and healthy. I still have an idea or two up my sleeve. First off, Remington is surrounded by "famous neighborhoods" with attractions while Remington holds more of a "Best Kept Secret" Status. It has a great youth group, something other Baltimore Neighborhoods can take a cue from, and a very friendly diverse population. Baltimore, to outsiders isn't known as being a Friendly City but I haven't met a Remington Resident who isn't anything less than pleasant and welcoming. Charles Village has the Painted Ladies, Hampden has the 34th St. Lights and the Avenue, and Station North is burgeoning Arts & Entertainment District. What can give Remington its distinction? How about landscaping? Baltimore always prides itself on having the wackiest and tackiest decorations like the Painted Ladies in Charles Village and the 34th St. Lights in Hampden but no Neighorhood has come out with the wacky tacky front yards. It can range from shaped hedges, lawn gnomes, things spelled out in feritlizer anything your imgaination can dream up. That will put Remington on the map and give it a greater identity.
Since I last wrote about Remington, I laid out a Master Plan that appears to be well followed, now with the Anderson Automotive Redvelopment "fixed" and some wacky tacky lawns Revisting Remington was a great visit. I hope you'll have me back soon!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Belvedere Square: Anchoring the Govans Comunity

The York Road is just that, a route form Baltimore to York, PA. York Road didn't have as large a stretch that it does in Baltimore City today, during the the annexation of 1911 Baltimore's Northern Border was extended drastically. With it, that extention included the developing suburbs of Guilford, Homeland, Roland Park, and the developing farm villages of Govanstown and Waverly.
After annexation, Govanstown, which was eventually shortened to Govans experienced massive development into semi urban semi suburban neighborhood with a diverse mix of housing options. Buyers can choose from from the traditional urban row house or varying sizes of Single Family Homes. I would guess that the row homes came later as there was a push for more density in the annexed area.Unlike most of the City, the decades following World War II were much kinder to Govans. A Hoschild Kohn Department Store opened along York Road along with a Hess Shoe Store in addition to neighborhood retail. Movie Houses began popping up as well, the Senator until very recently remained in operation. Displaced White Residents by blockbusting found solace in Govans as it was just like a suburb, it just happened to still be in the City.The 1970s saw racial change for Govans. It still had a strong White Population suggesting the racial turnover was peaceful and dare I say welcomed? The 1980s saw a continuing racial change for Govans but at a much slower space. Department Stores that were local and/or not part of an enclosed Shopping Mall were closing all over. Hoschild Kohn as a chain was in financial trouble, one of the Stores closed was their Govans location. The chain eventually went belly up.
This was supposed to be the beginning of the end for Govans but it wasn't. Most neighborhoods further south on York Road had experienced urban decline except for Waverly which still played host to the Orioles at Memorial Stadium. It was at this time that Developers and Community Leaders alike wanted a new concept for the Govans Community involving Retail. It was to be located at York Road and Northern Parkway.
Belvedere Square opened in 1986 to positive reviews and for the next 10-12 years worked as both a retail Mecca and a Community Gathering Spot bridging the Gap formed by York Road. Its East and West neighborhoods had kept to themselves before the opening of Belvedere Square. The late 1990s Belvedere Square's day in the sun had faded. Storefronts had been turning up vacant and shoppers didn't congregate here as they had been.
Although Belvedere Square wasn't very old and/or historically significant, Communities both east and west of York Road wanted to see Belvedere Square back filled with new tenants and for it to continue to act as a gathering place. The desire for a resurgance of Belvedere Square caught the attention of bigwig Baltimore Developer Struever Brothers Eccles and Rouse. Manekin LLC , Belvedere Square's management teamed up with Struever Brothers and William Jackson Ewing Inc, to redevelop the center as a largely Open Air Market with Boutique Shops and Offices on the second floor.
In 2003 Belvedere Square reopened anchored by the Belvedere Market and Deadalus Books. York Road's corwn and jewel is shining once again and all parties couldn't be happier. Belevedere Square year round is bustling with shoppers looking for fresh produce at the Market, a good deal at Tuesday Morning, or a good book at Deadalus. The Govans Community has been able to hold its own through the rough days of Belvedere Square and has come out even stronger once it reopened.
One can only wonder if the friendly nature of the Govans Community (It has raised enough money to save the Senator Theatre) would have gone into decline without the Belvedere Square Anchor. Luckily all we can do is wonder because Belvedere Square doesn't seem to be hitting any rough spots even in this shaky economy and Govans remains a strong hold for Baltimore residents seeking a safe diverse middle class neighborhood.