Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Pimlico that Works For Everyone All the Time

Pimlico has been the subject of intense debate over the past several years and nothing has been resolved. The long time Baltimore Landmark that hosts the Preakness is as always in financial trouble and constantly changing Owners won't turn Pimlico into a money maker. The Park Heights Master Plan has offered a few options regarding Pimlico's future. There's one that leaves the Race Course as is and another that involves redevelopment of the Parking Lots and the Race Course as Mixed Use Office Retail and Residential. Neither plan satisfies 100% yet at the same time, Neither plan 100% dissatisfies me. It's time to get ultra creative and turn Pimlico into a year round Money Maker for all ages.
The woes of Pimlico are no surprise, not only is it grossly under utilized but Horse Racing has been dying a slow death for decades now. A good way that's helped the owners supplement income and generate revenue for the City has been using the Race Course as a venue for all day concert events such as Virgin Fest. Although they have breathed new into Pimlico for duration of the event it has failed to restore Pimlico as a busy year round attraction. This begs the question of slots operating in Pimlico, I will discuss that later in this post.
Allow me to side track you for a quick second. This will tie into Pimlico I promise. The Gym in Beverly Hills High School has a floor that splits in two to make way for a swimming pool underneath. The "Swim Gym" located here is perhaps the only one of its kind. This allows the Gym to serve multi purposes without wasted space. What does this have this have to do with Pimlico? Upon learning of this technology used in Beverly Hills High I had an epiphany. Why can't the Race Track in Pimlico part using this same technology? After all the Beverly Hills Swim Gym albeit much smaller than the Pimlico Race Track was built in the 1930s as a New Deal Project so I'm sure that technology can be used for a peice of land as large as Pimlico. If the Beverly Hills Swim Gym was a New Deal project maybe the Pimlico Project can get funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act; the 21st Century New Deal. Of course this would be very expensive but you have to spend money to make money right? So, in short my plan is turn Pimlico into a Swimming Pool. Only it will be more than just a pool. It would be by far the largest in the City complete with water slides, a wave pool, hot tubs, a volley ball court, and lots of water park "mushrooms."
The Pool will be open from dawn to dusk seven days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day which is the normal annual time span in this region for an Outdoor Pool. If an outdoor concert wishes to use Pimlico the Pool would be closed. Now I want to see Pimlico as a year round venue and an Outdoor Swimming Pool can only fit the bill for summer months. Now riddle me this; What happens to water when it freezes? Ice! So, from November to mid March Pimlico will serve as an Ice Rink for recreational Ice Skating and perhaps an Ice Hockey League.
Now this begs the question of money. I will answer said question regarding money. The renovation of Pimlico will be financed by any number of grants by both public and private entities. The City will then lease Pimlico from its owners and will share the cost of maintenance. Admission will be free. The revenue generator will come in the form of concessions. Local eateries in the surrounding Neighborhood can operate kiosk stands inside Pimlico.
Now I said that I will discuss slots and I've decided to keep that promise. Slots are bascially an unavoidable force and the only way to save Pimlico would be to let slots operate there. When the swimming pool closes for the night, the Slots Parlor will open. The same M.O. will be in effect during the Ice Rink months. There's still that period of time between mid March and Memorial Day, well that's Horse Racing Season! As long as Horse Racing is up and running Pimlico will serve as its primary function; a Race Track. The Preakness will always have a home at Pimlico as well.
Earlier I talked about options in the Park Heights Master Plan and my satisfaction or lack there of regarding its options for Pimlico. Redevelopment was discussed but that involved the demolition of Pimlico, at least in the Master Plan. With Pimlico alive and better than ever in my plan its acres of surface parking remain desolate. As part of Pimlico's renovation undergound parking will be put under the track. The mixed use development discussed in the Master Plan will still come to fruition except Pimlico won't hit the wrecking ball.
Pimlico has been a Baltimore Landmark since before the land was annexed by the City. With its fate up in the air drastic steps must be taken to save it and make it a Park that everyone of all ages can enjoy.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The new MARC Transfer Station

So far all I've done in Southwestern Baltimore County is close down two MARC Stations and put in their place localized stops and stations with lots TOD and redvelopment. So far I've done nothing to address the MARC Stations that were closed in the wake of my Master Plan. Now it's high time I shared with you what it is plan to do address the Commuter Rail that will eventually share its tracks with the localized Orange and Purples Lines aka the MARC Camden and Penn Lines respectively.
Although the Relay MARC Station is one of historical signifigance, the amount of traffic that a true MARC Stop generates would severely disrupt the quiet residential Community so I decided that it should close both as a MARC Station and any possibility of it being an Orange Line Stop. Orange Line Stops in Elkridge and Lansdowne Station are in my final plan.
Unlike Relay, the Halethorpe MARC Station on the Penn Line has a large Commuter Base and the Station to support it. So I'm sure it came as a surprise to all who read the post that I want to close. I put a Purple Line Stop about quarter mile away in Arbutus that will serve UMBC Students and Arbutus Residents alike. That plan also calls for massive redevelopment between the stop on Southwestern Boulevard and the UMBC Campus.
Now let me give an overview of the MARC Rail. I think of it as an "All Roads lead to DC" Commuter Rail that serves those who work bankers hours. It has three lines all together (the third line called the Brunswick doesn't go anywhere near Baltimore) and their starting point is in DC. Now the other two lines, the Camden and the Penn both lead to Baltimore. the Camden Line, as the name suggests ends at Camden Yards. The Penn Line contrary to the name does not end at Penn Station. It does stop there but it continues on to Harford County.
In southwestern Baltimore County, there is a large missed opportunity, the two lines actually cross paths. The fact that the MTA has ignored this potential has left me baffled. The need for the two MARC Lines to cross paths and act as transfer points to one another has been the center point of my Southwestern Baltimore County Posts. I have left this pivotal part out to see how many people would pick up on that fact. The new MARC Station located at the criss cross of the tracks would also be an additional stop on both the localized Purple and Orange Lines.
As I draw my series of posts regarding Southwest Baltimore County Rail Transit to a close I'd like to bring this up, when planning transit lines it's always best to have as many transfer points throughout the system as possible. The more convenient the service, the higher the ridership, which would in turn lead to less congestion on roads all across the board. It's time the two MARC Lines met their ultimate destiny in Baltimore by taking advantage of an existing meeting point and turning it into a transfer point.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Arbutus/UMBC TOD and Redevelopment

Despite having one of America's most "Up & Coming" Universities at its door step, Arbutus may as well be worlds away from UMBC. I give Arbutus credit for maintaining its Small Town feel in the middle of suburbia and at the City's southwestern border. Although the Small Town feel is welcoming, Arbutus seems to have gone stagnant. There hasn't been much on the development front nor has there been any population influx to speak of like that of pretty much all other "inner ring suburbs." Like the City, Arbutus has lost population during the last few decades but Arbutus has an untapped Jewel hidden behind Southwestern Boulevard that needs to be unearthed and with will come new development and population gains.
Arbutus was never meant to be a rich man's suburb. As the flight to the suburbs was in full swing the suburbs built catered to the income of where they were fleeing the City from. It's not hard to trace who went where, If you lived in SoWeBo, you went to Arbutus if you lived in Park Heights you went Pikesville or Randallstown, If you lived in Edmondson Village you went to Catonsville, and if you lived in Highlandtown you went to Dundalk. In some cases, especially in Arbutus, the housing stock mirrored that of the City everyone was fleeing. In Arbutus, it wasn't a housing upgrade, just a demographically homogenized version of the City so it's no surprise that Arbutus contains lots of row homes and small single family homes.
The opening of UMBC did little to chnage the suburban landscape of Arbutus. There are several large Apartment Complexes nearby and although Students have moved into some, it's doesn't have as high of a Student population as one would think. UMBC is almost completely a Commuter School despite the housing stock available both on and off campus. Arbutus is what I like to call a "Generations Community", which is when houses are passed down to Children and Grandchildren of long time owners and/or said Children have settled elsewhere in Arbutus. What has resulted is a close knit Community that appears closed off to change.
Most of the Retail in Arbutus has been there for quite some time. This goes along with the Close Knit "Generations Community" theory I'm using to describe Arbutus. Now since I've described the quintessential Small Town America, why is Arbutus losing population? Well like I've said before it's not a Rich Man's Suburb and some of the problems that have hurt the City have crossed the County Line into Arbutus. Another reason is the aging housing stock. With Arbutus not being very well to do, Home Owners and Landlords alike haven't invested in the housing stock like they have in other wealthier Communities. The Real Estate bubble didn't inflate the Market which allowed for home equity loans either. Arbutus today is an aging suburb with a shrinking population and limited quality housing choices.
The County has answered back by introducing a Main Street themed Retail Town Centre around the intersection of East Drive and Sulphur Spring Road. This has spruced up the landscape of Arbutus with streetscape enhancements and adequate lighting. It hasn't done much to improve the appearance of the businesses themselves.
In order for Arbutus to move forward, it must take a good hard look at what it's lacking (I just did that) and then see if there's a way it can be improved upon by either using an existing resource or bringing them in from the outside. Just like the rest of Southwestern Baltimore, Arbutus has the gift of having train tracks running right through it. No this won't be the replacement MARC Station but it will be a stop on the Purple Line which will share tracks with the MARC Penn Line and Amtrak.
Locating the Arbutus Station across from the Southwestern Boulevard intersection with Linden Avenue will be the optimal location. Linden Avenue serves as an entrance point for the Arbutus Community and the enchanced "Town Centre." With a Rail Stop Arbutus can redevelop its tired old Retail Buildings into High Density TOD Buildings. This hopefully will have a domino effect with either reinveting in or redeveloping some of the old Row Homes nearby. The sprawling Westland Gardens Apartment Complext is due for redevelopment which may bring better Retail to the Wilkens Avenue/Maiden Choice Lane Area.
The old Single Family Homes can't really be changed much because they aren't part of a Complex. It would be great to eventually redevelop the Single Family Homes to expand the TOD District all the way to UMBC but Banks could make available Low Interest Loans to residents to fix up their homes in the mean time. Speaking of UMBC the MTA would have to make a "shuttle bug" route like those found in Hampden in Mondawmin for Arbutus to allow UMBC and Westland Gardens access to the new Station.
The TOD Distrcist will extend east of Southwestern Boulevard into Lansdowne where it will undergo a radical transformation for its new Station along the Orage Line. A pedestrian bridge across Southwestern Boulevard will for now connect Arbutus to its new Station. I'm looking into long range goals to make a more Pedestrian friendly Southwestern Boulevard but that will have to wait for a different post.
Arbutus has been stagnant for too long, it's time some life was pumped into it by way of Rail Transit. Just put a Rail Station somewhere and watch the Neighborhood transform! That is, if it's done correctly.