Thursday, April 18, 2013

Make Way For Gay St. Part I

There may be some overlap between this post and a series I did several years ago called "Reopening the Great Northeast" but at the same time I have re tweaked some of the nuts and bolts as I continue to educate myself and my ideas evolve. No series on East Baltimore can be complete without discussing the traffic patterns in and around Oldtown Mall. Right now it isn't great. Gay St. ends at Orleans St. and doesn't start again until just above Broadway. Hillen St. and Ensor St. are both very wide considering they're both one way streets. Above Aisquith St. Harford Avenue (which is what Hillen and Ensor turn into) becomes one way going Northbound until it meets North Avenue. Like its Hillen St. and Ensor St. counterparts to the south, Harford Avenue is also very wide. I personally believe all of these streets and the traffic patterns associated with them make for a confusing and inefficient grid of streets that contributes to the lack of progress around East Baltimore. I would like to address these issues by declaring five words; Make Way for Gay St.
As the name of this post suggests, I would like to reopen Gay St. This matter has been discussed quite often from shareholders invested in the dying Oldtown Mall. They believe that closing off Gay St. and making it a pedestrian mall was a big mistake. I defy you to find anybody that disagrees with that logic. A portion of Howard St. was closed off and that killed the Westside of Downtown as did the closing off Lexington St. just west of Charles Center. Howard St. has long since reopened and Lexington St. will reopen shortly if it hasn't done so already. The Oldtown Master Plan does call for Gay St. to reopen but only a tiny portion of it. The plan only shows Gay St. being reopened between Forest St. and Aisquith St. Personally, I don't see how this revitalize Oldtown Mall and the rest of the Neighborhood as a chain reaction. That is why we must make way for Gay St.
Gay St. begins at the Inner Harbor at Pratt St. It goes north for a few blocks as a one way street and then turns northeast intersecting the JFX. You can exit Gay St. and go northbound on the JFX if that's your destination. Continuing along Gay St. you will see the Baltimore City Fire Museum straight ahead which is the beginning of Oldtown Mall. Oldtown Mall begins at Orleans St. and this is where Gay St. currently ends. All traffic bares a slight left to go onto Ensor St. rather than driving through Oldtown Mall. Ensor St. will eventually dump its traffic onto Harford Avenue. Now I'm going to get rid of Ensor St. all together. Traffic on Gay St. will continue along Gay St. straight through Oldtown Mall. Given that this is a narrow stretch of road there won't be any shoulders or on street parking for Oldtown Mall along Gay St. Oldtown Mall (reopened Gay St.) lets at Aisquith St. at Monument St. In the Oldtown Master Plan, this is where Gay St. would end. This isn't the Oldtown Master Plan this is my plan and I'm going to continue Gay St.
In order for Gay St. to continue past Monument St. a few things would have to happen. First, Aisquith St. will have to end at Gay St. Second, the Monument honoring Henry G. McComas will have to be moved to the Dunbar Athletic Field, and finally a traffic light will have to be installed at Gay St. and Monument St. Gay St. will then cut through the eastern edge of the Dunbar Athletic Fields where a new roundabout at Gay St, Madison St, and Central Avenue will be constructed. Past the roundabout, Gay St. will intersect Eden St, Ashland Avenue, and Caroline St. before hitting Church Square Shopping Center. 
I would have loved to have redeveloped Church Square so that the new Save A Lot Grocery Store could be larger than the 22,000 Square Feet it currently is. Given how landlocked Church Square is I don't see that happening without major disruption to the surrounding area. However, between Eden St. and Ashland Avenue, the parking lot for the high rise will have to be torn down. and relocated just east of its current location to make way for the two lane one way street. The loading dock for the Save A Lot will also have to be reconfigured to make way for Gay St.
Just northeast of Church Square, is Bond St. and the titular Bond St. Apartments. Up until now there hasn't been much disruption by extending Gay St. sure move a parking lot here, move a statue there but as far as moving actual buildings goes everything has been spared, until now. The courtyard that's in the pathway of Gay St. simply isn't wide enough for two lanes of northbound traffic nor is it safe to leave the Apartment Buildings where they are even if the front doors were moved. As a result, those two buildings will have to be demolished and rebuilt in a way that Gay St. can co exist peacefully with them. Bond St. Apartments are just southwest of Broadway and Broadway is where Gay St. continues! We've made it! Gay St. is now one continuous road from Pratt St. all the way to Broadway. From Broadway Gay St. runs to North Avenue and then becomes Belair Road. On the existing part of Gay St. I would turn it into two way traffic and plant a landscaped median in the middle as well as designated bike lanes. Hopefully, this newly designed Gay St. will promote redevelopment more traffic going through the Broadway East Neighborhood which suffers from severe population loss and abandoned homes. I would love this to be a catalyst for redevelopment in Broadway East as a fringe benefit. 
The Oldtown Master Plan calls for Gay St. to reopened from Forest St. to Aisquith St. Although I'm for that I'm also for connecting Gay St. from Orleans St. to Broadway as a continuous one way northbound street. In short, Make Way for Gay St! Stay tuned for Part II The Harford/Hillen/Esnor redesign.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Historic Jonestown:Far Beyond Albemarle Square

Blending East Baltimore into Downtown is the whole purpose of this series. I think that with such powerhouses as the Inner Harbor and Johns Hopkins Hospital, everything in between it should be considered  real estate gold. One way to achieve that goal is to increase walk-ability and mass transit access wherever possible. That being said, I find myself focused on Historic Jonestown. No not Albemarle Square, the new development that now takes up the majority of the Neighborhood but the actual structures that have survived for centuries and in my opinion, are ready to shine once again far beyond Albemarle Square.
 When looking at how Downtown and East Baltimore have come together in recent years, it appears that Little Italy has always had a great connection to Downtown. When the Harbor gentrified merchants of Little Italy were worried that all that focus on the Harbor would hurt their Businesses. Luckily their worries were all for nothing because the Harbor actually drew to Little Italy and business has never been better. Playing off that success came Inner Harbor East (pictured above), a high density upscale glitzy shopping, residential, and hotel district with breathtaking views of the Harbor, Fells Point, Federal Hill, and Locust Point. Now next on the list is Historic Jonestown. Jonestown had once been an area to avoid with the infamous Flag House Courts high rises dominating the landscape. Today however, there's little if anything to be afraid of now that Flag House has been torn down and replaced with the much cleaner and safer mixed income alternative of Albemarle Square.
Now Little Italy (pictured above) and Inner Harbor East are tourist attractions but can Jonestown also hold that title? Well lets see, within this Neighborhood's small boundaries we have; Lloyd St. Synagogue (among the oldest in the Country), Charles Carroll of Carollton House, the Flag House, the Shot Tower, McKim Free School, The Jewish Museum of Maryland, Reginald F. Lewis African American History Museum, and Corned Beef Row. Touristy enough for you? I thought so.
The Heritage Walk Trail is a good way to tie these attractions together but I would like to see more people living in Historic Jonestown. Now the question comes up on how to attract a critical mass of people to Jonestown? I can think of a great way and it's already built into the infrastructure; the Shot Tower/Marketplace Metro Station! Now the name of the Metro Station in question doesn't do much in the way of promoting the actual Neighborhood. That's why I'm proposing that the Metro Station be renamed to "Historic Jonestown" that would literally put the Neighborhood "on the map." 
Now I ask you another question; how do you know if your Metro Station is successful? The answer of course being of there's a critical mass of Residences, Retail, Office and Hotel Space within a very few blocks of said Station. Said critical mass is located west of the Station on the other side of President St. marking the eastern edge of Downtown. My goal is to extend the density of Downtown into Jonestown not unlike what has already been done in Little Italy and Harbor East. Jonestown will be a hybrid of the two; Historic Housing Stock like Little Italy and redevelopment when needed like Harbor East. 
Now what gets the wrecking ball? Obviously none of the Historical Attractions will. When repopulating Jonestown, I'm attracted to East Baltimore St. I would like to make that the Neighborhood's Main Street. And why shouldn't East Baltimore St. serve that purpose? After all that's where the escalators to the Metro Station are and the Metro Station is what I'm using as a catalyst for growth. If I'm using the Metro Station as a catalyst for growth, then I'm sure you know where this is going; TOD! I think Historic Jonestown could stand for high density TOD to complement Albemarle Square, the Metro Stop, and the slew of Historic Sites and attractions that this fine Neighborhood has to offer. So I bet you're wondering what I have in mind for this new TOD, well lets get to work!
First we have a block of old buildings on Front and Albemarle Streets just below Baltimore St. between the Metro Station and the Charles Caroll of Carrollton House. Please keep in mind that I have no intention of demolishing any historic buildings but these buildings in between would benefit from redevelopment with underground parking and a mid rise (8-10 stories) that has an underground connection to the Metro Station.
Now lets take a trip down East Baltimore St. which like I said before will be Historic Jonestown's Main Street. In the 900 block there's a one story building that belongs to the "Chess Communications Gorup." Actually this building has Fayette St. Frontage but that's neither here nor there. Density this low is not appropriate this close to Downtown. therefore this buildings should be redeveloped with a parking garage in the middle of the block and a mixed use building all around said garage. As part of this project the two lone row houses in this block should be rehabbed and rented or sold. Across the Street from the Chess Communications Group building is a row of vacant Row Homes that need to be rehabbed as well. The Chess Communications Group will be given Office Space in one of the new buildings.
In the 1000 block of East Baltimore St. there's a building that's used by the City Health Department. Just like the building in the 900 block this building is very low density for the type of Neighborhood I'm envisioning for Jonestown. One thing they did get right was the parking garage that's already there. As for redevelopment, the building would go and would be rebuild over top of the existing parking garage with Fayette and East St frontage. With the density increased for the City Health Department building, there's now room on Baltimore and Exeter Streets for a new "L" shaped building that wraps around the intersection of Baltimore and Exter. Again this will be a mixed use building roughly 8-10 stories in height.
The 1100 and 1200 blocks of East Baltimore St. are perfect for rehabs. There's a vacant building just west of the McKim Free School that would be perfect for Loft Apartments. As part of the rehab of the building in the 1100 block of East Baltimore St., the developer must rehab the McKim Free School and put it to use as either a Community Center or another non profit use. 
The 1200 block building that appears to be vacant is also a great candidate for restoration. The stucco facade doesn't go well with the Neighborhood but adding masonry and converting the building to Loft Apartments would make this building fit right in and complement Historic Jonestown perfectly. There's even room to add on to this building which rid the 1200 block of East Baltimore St. of any vacant lots. 
With several new and rehabbed blocks in Historic Jonestown within steps of the Metro Station, when one thinks of Historic Jonestown in the future, they will look far beyond Albemarle Square.