Sunday, July 7, 2013

Old Town Mall and Blocks East: A Part of Baltimore's New Eastside

As Baltimore's crime ridden East Side becomes a thing of the past, it's important to stop and think that in order for the East Side to continue improving, that there's an order in which to do things. I will give you the perfect example; Rehabbing Old Town Mall and attracting new tenants BEFORE reopening Gay St. would be counterproductive. Although a revitalized Old Town Mall is high on my list of goals for East Baltimore, other things must happen first. That's what this post will focus on.
Before focusing on the Mall itself, lets start improving the area. Oldtown Mall may have been the only beneficiary of the old public housing high rises. That was the shopping destination for Residents of Flag House Courts, LaFayette Courts, and Broadway Homes. And those are just the high rise developments, there are several low rise and town house public housing developments that Oldtown Mall served as well as a few market rate developments although for the most part the high concentration of public housing had driven market rate Residents out of East Baltimore.
As high rises were replaced with lower density town home developments (like the one pictured above), the crime rate dropped however the density did as well. Oldtown Mall was already dying and hurting from the MLK Riots of 1968, the population loss of the 1970s, and the cocaine epidemic of the 1980s. The redevelopment of the late 1990s and 2000s appears to have been the final nail in the coffin for the ailing Pedestrian Mall with only a hand full of  merchants left.
There had been talk at one point of building a Safeway on a vacant parcel of land in Oldtown Mall. Although the idea of bringing in a Grocer to this part of the City is a great idea, I must take issue to a Safeway. Safeway has a reputation of offering expired produce at very high prices in poor communities just ask any Resident of Mount Clare or Columbia's Long Reach Village, neither of these communities were sad to see their Safeway close. If we're going to add drinking water to this food desert why not make said "water" fresh. 
I would prefer a Shop Rite open up a location in Oldtown Mall instead. I shop there and I'm astounded at their selection of all kinds of fresh foods and how a VERY budget conscience person like myself can afford to shop there while not feeling like I'm in a dive. Howard Park Residents are eagerly awaiting the opening of a Shop Rite(pictured above) as well. Now large Grocery Stores even in an urban setting like this require a large amount of parking spaces. This has been an ongoing struggle to bring the amenities of the suburbs back into older Cities like Baltimore ever since the suburbs came into existence. My solution? build the Shop Rite over-top a parking garage.
In addition to the Retail that needs to come to the area, there are also Residences. First we have Forest St. Apartments (not pictured) just east of Oldtown Mall. These are garden Apartments that are very suburban for the area and look very dated and blighted. On the land in which Forest St. Apartments. I'm unsure whether or not these Apartments are Section 8 or not. I do know that they are not public housing. 
In their place I would build town homes (like those pictured above.) These town homes will have garages and driveways in the back. McElderry St. will be relocated to the south a little bit and town homes will have frontage along it, Aisquith St.m Forest St. and Orleans St. in the back where garages are will be a Community park with a play ground and green space.
Next we come to an area literally in transition; Somerset Homes. Back in 2008 or 2009 Somerset Homes, a town house public housing project hit the wrecking ball. Today the land in which it sits remains vacant except for a couple of churches on the edge of the site. The economic downturn forced the City to put the brakes on redeveloping Somerset Homes but in order to keep squatters out of the boarded up buildings, it was torn down.
As we get closer to Hopkins, I think it's appropriate that higher density Apartments and Condos be the order of the day. Given Somerset Homes' prime location just two blocks west of the Hopkins border, their replacement should be just that. This type of Apartment building will be built around a central parking garage that the Apartments themselves will mask. The parking garage will be for Residents only except for one section that will be reserved for members of the churches on site that will NOT be torn down.
Next we come to what will be a mixed use parcel. This holds Paul Laurence Dunbar High (pictured), part of Sojouner Douglas College, and two closed Schools; Thomas G. Hayes Elementary and Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle. These closed Schools are in no doubt a direct result of the population caused be the emptying out and closing of public housing projects.
The closed Schools, just one block west of Hopkins, are to be torn down and replaced with more high density Apartments. Market Rate Apartments (like those pictured above) for workers of Hopkins are in high demand and will compliment the new Middle East Neighborhood well as well as the bridge between Oldtown Mall and Hopkins.
Speaking of Oldtown Mall, where does it fit into all this new development? Well, as these new developments are being built, this is the perfect time to reopen Gay St. to vehicular traffic and make it a thru street from Pratt St. to Belair Road using its old right of way. Rehabbing the Old Town Mall buildings before this takes place would be futile. Once Gay St. has reopened, then and only then can life be breathed into Oldtown Mall.
The goal for Oldtown Mall is historic preservation. When the layers of bight are peeled back, the buildings are beautiful and should be treated as such. Once rehabbed the buildings will be filled with Neighborhood Retail on the ground floor with Residences on the upper floors. In short Old Town Mall will be a better version of what it is. Once fully redeveloped this area will be one of Baltimore's most sought after addresses as part of Baltimore's New East Side.

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