Thursday, September 30, 2010

Edmondson Village:Driven by the Outside Market

Edmondson Village's demographics have always been driven by outside forces. First it was the advent of James Keelty's "Daylight Row Houses" which features a window in every room. This brought Baltimore's White Middle Class Christians and Catholics to Edmondson Village. Then came blockbusting, Real Estate agents scared off Whites by the thousands by planting Black Families on stable blocks and in no time at all, Edmodson Village went from completely White to completely Black. Then came the Drug Trade and Public Housing High Rises.
The Public Housing High Rises were supposed to solve and consolidate the urban ills and decay, instead, it expanded them and made them worse. Although Edmodson Village didn't ever have Public Housing High Rises but some of the woes caused by them and the drug trade crossed into Edmondson Village. More recently, long time Homeowners have aged and as a result are putting their houses up for sale and looming threat of slum lords buying them and renting them out to families who don't care for their houses the way Homeowners do.
Today, outside forces over the next 10-20 years will reshape the demographics of Edmondson Village. On either side of the Neighborhood, major redevelopment initiatives or beginning to take place or are on the books to take place. In Uplands, a large shuttered Public Housing Development has been torn down. In its place will be roughly 1646 units of mixed style and mixed income housing. This will be a transformation area between the lower density Neighborhoods of Ten Hills and Hunting Ridge and the higher density Neighborhoods of Edmondson Village and Allendale.
East of Edmondson Village, redevelopment is also in the air. It's not quite as apparent as Uplands seeing as nothing has been torn down recently. But make no mistakes, the West Baltimore MARC Station Redevelopment is raring to go full speed ahead. In addition to Edmondson Village the redevelopment of the West Baltimore MARC may finally lead to addressing the Road to Nowhere. The West Baltimore MARC Station, now nothing more than surface lots will be developed into high density TOD with Offices, Retail, and Residential. Since the existing surrounding Neighborhoods (Not Edmondson Village) are in such bad shape, redevelopment will extend beyond the boundaries of the West Baltimore MARC Parking Lots.
Finally, running right through Edmondson Village will be the Red Line. It will span from Medicare/Medicaid Office Complex to Bayview crossing the existing West Baltimore MARC Station and a new East Baltimore MARC Station to be created in Orangeville. Although it is poised to relieve traffic congestion along Edmondson Avenue with fewer cars driving on it, it is also poised, to be rammed down Edmondson Avenue just like the Light Rail is along Howard St. Not only will this destroy Edmondson Avenue's beautiful new landscaped median but it will make traffic worse! This is an SOS call to the MTA; Tunnel the Red Line down Edmondson Avenue!
So where does this leave Edmondson Village? After it's in the middle of all this redevelopment. How will it change? Will it change at all? Should there be intervention to initiate change? I'm going with the third option, after all, if I wasn't interested in change for Edmondson Village, Would I be writing this post? The vast majority of Edmondson Village's housing stock is in great shape and needs no intervention. What does need to happen is when a house goes up on the Market there should be a monitoring agency presumably an HOA to make sure the Homeownership Rate stays high and flippers and slumlords are kept out.
Now there is a little room for redevelopment in Edmondson Village. First, at the northern end of the Neighborhood lies the Wildwood Gardens Apartment Complex. Wildwood Gardens is a suburban style garden Apartment Complex that is suffering from poor maintenance and is showing its age. New Town Homes would make a perfect replacement as that's what leads up to them on Woodington Road and Wildwood Parkway. The new homes will take advantage of its views of Leakin Park and will be named "Leakin Overlook at Edmondson Village." In what I'm calling a "density exchange" the row homes along Edmondson Avenue will be demolished and Mixed Income Apartment/Condo Buildings will go in their place. These buildings will connect Uplands to the West Baltimore MARC Station as they will cover that whole distance. Behind the shopping Center is a vacant spot that can make for additional Town Homes as well.
Speaking of Edmondson Avenue, it's time that it underwent a makeover. From the County Line to the West Baltimore MARC Station it should undergo sidewalk construction, new traffic signals and pedestrian "countdown signals", repavement, and crosswalk restriping. New benches and plantings will also flank Edmondson Avenue. It may work in Edmondson Avenue's favor to narrow it to four lanes instead of six. The fifth and sixth lanes could work as metered diagonal parking spaces like those found on the Avenue in Hampden.
Well it's plain to see that outside forces have driven Edmondson Village in the past and have continued to do so in the present and are poised to do so in the future.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Greektown: Bring On the Condos, Well Not Yet

First it was East Highlandtown, then Little Athens, and now Greektown. The cluster of Neighborhoods located in the far Southeast were built specifically for Industry including Greektown and now that Industry is dwindling away all around the Harbor it's time that Greektown experienced growth just like its counterparts to the West. So I say to Greektown; Bring on the Condos! Well, not yet.
Greektown, just like every East Baltimore Neighborhood was built to house workers from Bethlehem Steel in Sparrows Point which at the time was the City's largest Employer with close to 30,000 on the pay roll in its heyday. The Port of Baltimore, Fort Holabird, and Dundalk Marine Terminal were also major players in providing employment for Greektown. It's no mystery how Greektown got its name, Baltimore's Greek Residents congregated here to Live, Work, Play, and Worship.
The plight of Greektown was almost non-existant when compared to Industry Based Neighborhoods throughout Baltimore and throughout Urban America. Why? It's all in the name! Just like Little Italy, Greektown retained a core group of residents despite employment leaving the area with it popular Restaurants, Eateries, and Markets being an outside. With Little Italy, it was Italian Restaurants and in Greektown, obviously it was and is Greek Restaurants. Every Spring, the event known as "Greekfest" brings a lot of Residents and Tourists alike to Greektown even those not of Greek Dissent.
In the early 2000s, as Mayor, Marton O'Malley launched a Master Plan for the Southeastern Neighborhood Cluster including Greektown. The plan called for infrastructure improvements, streetscape enhancements on Eastern Avenue, New Playgrounds, Alley Cleanings, and the redevelopment of O'Donnell Heights. Today in 2010, O'Malley seems to have made good on the Master Plan as most of these projects have been completed or are underway. Greektown, being the healthiest Neighborhood of thee cluster wasn't mentioned much. The only thing recommended for Greektown was refilling vacant row homes. The vacancy rate as of 2000 was 11% but I project it today to be between 7% and 8% as vacants have been rehabbed and refilled. A large Hispanic Population has joined Greektown as it has with Southeast Baltimore as a whole. Perhaps the biggest dilemma that the plan brought up for Greektown was that its housing stock, although very healthy is dated and might not attract new residents. The recent Hispanic influx has proved this untrue but that statement appeared to have gotten the attention of couple developers.
Ryan Homes answered back with the 97 unit Athena Square on the southwestern edge of Greektown off of Oldham St. on an old Industrial piece of land. Athena Square began construction just as the Real Estate bubble was about to burst. Sales began strong and prices were high. Sadly, with the big 2008 "bubble bust" Athena Square's prices, sales, and construction slowed down considerably. Athena Square is now nearing completion which brought the new construction to Greektown that the Southeast Master Plan said was needed.
The Story of new housing in Greektown doesn't end with Athena Square, it just got started.
At the same time Athena Square was approved, Kettler Development was getting its plans approved for close to 1,100 high rise Condos in Greektown. Those plans were submitted by Kettler and approved by the City of Baltimore in 2006. I said as far Greektown at that time; Bring on the Condos! A lot has changed between 2006 and 2010. Kettler wasn't scared off by the shrinking Real Estate Market but they did have to change up their game plan. I still say bring on the Condos just not yet. The site for the Condos is 15 acres and Kettler has come for with a plan for five of those acres. Unfortunately it's for Town Homes instead of Condos 125 to be exact. I guess they didn't hear me when I said Bring on the Condos! Since the economy went bust I have always been an advocate of not changing development and leaving them on the table because I believe when the market turns around the demand will return. The situation in Greektown is no different. The good news is there are still 10 of the 15 acres unaccounted for on the Greektown site. Kettler has no plans as of yet to develop them. That, in my opinion is good, that means they appear willing to wait out the market. Hopefully thethey're willing to bring on the Condos! Just not yet. Kettler envisioned Greektown to be another Inner Harbor East and hopefully that plan will come to fruition. My message to Kettler regrarding Greektown to be Bring on the Condos just not yet.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Clipper Mill:Preservation At Its Best

The remains of the old Clipper Mill has quickly become Baltimore's most sought after and most hidden address at the same time. The reason being is that Clipper Mill has gotten back to its roots as a Mill Village with a mix of uses including residential, retail, and office space. Given the success of Clipper Mill, one can't help but wonder if other old Mills in the Hampden Woodberry Area should have been better preserved or if there are other undiscovered Mill remains in the Woodberry Outback.
Clipper Mill came into existence around the Civil War as people from the South and Appalachia flooded Baltimore looking for work. Clipper Mill, which specialized in melting iron and producing machines and the Mount Vernon Cotton Mill. The site of the Mount Vernon Cotton Mill is now the Pepsi Bottling Plant opposite Clipper Mill. These Mills (twelve total) could not house the thounsands of workers who migrated to Baltimore. Thus began the early building boom of Hampden-Woodberry. Most of the detached housing built at the time was spread out and can be found mostly in Woodberry with a few amongst the Hampden Row Homes.
After the Civil War, Clipper Mill and its industrious Neighbors did not see a reduction in numbers of workers migrating from the South and Appalachia nor did those who came Pre-Civil War, leave. This explains the Southern Appalachian twang of the Baltimore Accent and why it's still so prevalent in Hampden today. Although work in the Mills slowed a little bit after the Civil War there was plenty to go around, in fact a second Migration Boom occurred during the United State's entry into World War I. Like clockwork, when the second Migration Boom Occurred, so did another Building Boom. This time, the new housing was denser Row Homes in what is present day Hampden and Medfield Heights. The current lay out of these Neighborhoods hasn't changed much since their inception during World War I.
Unlike the Civil War, Clipper Mill did not keep the jobs that were added for World War I. However, the Roaring 20s kept the Machines of Clipper Mill running. The Great Depression, for a short time brought Clipper Mill to a screeching halt. During the 1930s unemployment sky rocketed but by the mid to late 1930s Clipper Mill geared up and staffed up for World War II. World War II provided a brief healthy period for Clipper Mill and its cohort. Once World War II ended the 1950s and 60s spelled the end of Clipper Mill and Hampden Woodberry as we know it.
The Mount Vernon Cotton Mill was redeveloped as a Pepsi Bottling Center and the JFX (I-83) separated Clipper Mill and Woodberry from Hampden. Since Hampden Woodberry's employment base came from the Mills that had closed they went into rapid decline. Clipper Mill was left to rot, but was that a bad thing?
I should say not! For several reasons, one Batimore has a tendency to demolish way too many of its buildings, two preservationists have a hard time finding buildings to restore in Baltimore, and three Clipper Mill, except for a small fire in the 1960s has remained unchanged since its heyday. In the early 2000s, when Hampden's resurgence had been in full force for several years, developer Struever Brothers, Eccles and Rouse (SBER) saw Clipper Mill and saw a vision and they took that vision across the JFX and the Woodberry Light Rail Station.
Now SBER isn't some fly by night developer or some national conglomerate who only knows "Baltimore's Harbor", SBER has a huge stake planted in Baltimore's Future and they know a good investment when they see one and they saw one; in Clipper Mill. Clipper Mill has seen a rebirth a mixed use development as Condos, Town Homes, Single Family Homes, Offices, and a small Retail Component. The old Mill has been restored to her former glory and a new Village has grown up around it. If I were a developer I'd be wishing that more of the Mills of the Old Hampden Woodberry had been preserved given the success of Clipper Mill and the general ugliness of the Industry along the JFX. Meadow Mill, a small textiles plant east of the JFX was converted into a large Gym. If I could turn back time, I'd turn the Mount Vernon Cotton Mill into a development similar to Clipper Mill, perhaps with a larger Retail Component. If Pepsi were to relocate its bottling plant it could be redeveloped as such. As for Clipper Mill, I can say with certainty that's Preservation at its Best.

Friday, September 10, 2010

East Baltimore Midway:Rebuilding an Entire Neighorhood

Surprisingly, in a City like Baltimore where there are close to 15,000 vacant homes and thousands more vacant lots, there aren't but a handful of neighborhoods that I would take a demo crew to demolish the neighborhood. Even in some of Baltimore's most devastated neighborhoods, there are parts that are in great shape and are very much worth saving. In Upton there's Marble Hill, in Middle East there's the "Preservation Zone" below Hopkins near Patterson Park, Barclay there's everything west of Calvert St., there's Historic Homestead in Coldstream Homestead Montebello, and even in Park Heights there's Historic Park Circle.
East Baltimore Midway, is a different story. There's no Historic Housing Stock nor is the location optimal for Homesteading. The Urban Ills that have ravaged Rust Belt Citys across America are present and ramped in East Baltimore Midway. A lot of neighborhoods in Baltimore that are currently in rough shape still have some Community Amenities that, if used to their full potential, can bring back population (Union Square and Hollins Market are examples of this) but East Baltimore Midway does not have such amenities.
East Baltimore Midway was built out just after its annexation in the 1910s. Surrounding Industry had pushed the demand for housing for workers up North and thus began the "birth" of East Baltimore Midway. I'm not sure exactly how the name "East Baltimore Midway" came to fruition but I've seen it on the books for at least 40 years. It was among the first neighborhoods in East Baltimore to go through racial change in the 1940s and 1950s before "blockbusting" became popular.
In the early to mid 1960s, East Baltimore Midway had become one of East Baltimore's first Black Neighborhoods and perhaps the only one in North Baltimore. One thing to note about the geographics of East Baltimore is that it's considered East Baltimore on some maps, North Baltimore on others but I've never known it to be Northeast Baltimore. In the 1910s, just after annexation East Baltimore Midway was considered an outskirt of the City but is now considered "Inner City." Back to the 1960s, where much of that decade, East Baltimore Midway enjoyed a period of being a working class and healthy Black Neighborhood.
April 4th, 1968 changed everything in East Baltimore Midway and made for a new page in American History, an ugly page. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a preacher who advocated for equality between the races in a non-violent manner was shot dead from a Motel Balcony in Memphis. Within minutes of his death, his dream and words of peace were forgotten and riots broke out in Citys all across America. Baltimore was hit especially hard by riots and East Baltimore Midway was in the middle of it. White Flight accelerated and the impoverished Black Neighborhoods spread like wild fires.

Between the devistation of the MLK Riots of the late 1960s, the population loss of the 1970s, cocaine and HIV of the 1980s and the continued crime waves and population losses of the 1990s and 2000s East Baltimore Midway has become one of the City's most "scarred" Neighborhoods. Like I said in the beginning of this post, other troubled City Neighborhoods have "saving graces" that can bring about growth. East Baltimore Midway does not have that in its favor.
Today, in 2010, I would guesstimate the vacancy rate at 35% for East Baltimore Midway. That doesn't count the vacant lots which there aren't as many as in some cases. However, the housing stock both vacant and occupied is in shambles, the streets are dirty and unpaved, and the infrastructuree is crumbling. The chances of this neighborhood making a comeback are slim to none. Both from a financial and a practical standpoint, saving this neighborhood is not an option.
That means a complete tear down and redevelopment of the entire East Baltimore Midway Neighborhood. The "if you build it they will come" mentality will be applied to the redevelopment. And build it they will, the old East Baltimore Midway may lack certain community amenities but the new East Baltimore Midway will have an abundance of them. There will be a Public Square, Swimming Pool, Community Center with Internet Access, and a Playground for Children of all ages. If it's deemed necessary, East Baltimore Midway will get its own branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Librbary. Obviously, the income mix will be much broader with a 55% Market Rate Homeownership, 15% Market Rate Rental, 25% Affordable for Purchase, and 5% Affordable Rentals for Seniors. Denser Condos will be on the outer edges of the Neighborhood while larger town homes will be in the Center.
One hidden jewel the current East Baltimore Midway has is the Kirk Avenue Bus Storage. The Yellow Line will go up Greenmount Avenue with a stop at 25th St. serving East Baltimore Midway and surrounding communities. The Kirk Avenue Bus Depot, already owned by the MTA will be redeveloped as a Multi-Modal Transit Hub where Bus Routes start and stop instantly making East Baltimore Midway a draw all across the City and points beyond.
Well that just about does it for East Baltimore Midway, I apologize for not posting in a while but I'm back and better than ever! Stay Tuned!