Friday, July 25, 2014

A More Walkable Key Highway

Key Highway acts as a gateway to the South Baltimore Peninsula. Until recently, the South Baltimore Peninsula was home to heavy industry in addition to Row Homes. At the time Key Highway acted as the perfect gateway to South Baltimore with the Bethlehem Steel Shipyard in its forefront. Well times have changed and Key Highway and the South Baltimore Peninsula as a whole are much less industrial and much more Residential and Retail. One thing that goes hand in hand with that type of development is walkability. So without further ado, I give you a more walkable Key Highway.
The face of Key Highway has changed considerably over the past 20 years. After closing in 1984 the Bethlehem Steel shipyard lay vacant and rotting for several years before the construction of the Harborview Tower in 1993. This 29 story condo tower was the first of its kind and was way ahead of its time. The developers of Harborview knew what they were doing though. Throughout the 2000s, Harborview expanded with a low rise condo building and 88 very large town homes. Shortly following was the construction of the Ritz Carlton Residences although the economic downturn of 2008 stalled construction and prices dropped from seven figures to a mere six figures. Both Harborview and the Ritz Carlton Residences are gated Communities. 
Gated Communities don't exactly scream walkability and welcoming environment. Residents of a gated Community are less likely to walk places or use public transportation like the Charm City Circulator. It also sends a message for non Residents and that message is; Keep Out! Now I must give credit where credit is due, the Charm City Circulator has been great at transporting Residents in the area of Key Highway around the City and has brought many visitors as well to Key Highway (myself included.) Walkability cannot be achieved without something such as the Charm City Circulator and its connections to MTA Bus Lines, MARC, and Light Rail. This in a lot of ways makes Key Highway quite walkable. 
Like most areas of the City, Key Highway is in transition. There are still remnants of its industrial past and vacant lots that can be developed or redeveloped. In doing so, the walkability of Key Highway can be improved upon vastly. In keeping with my "give credit where credit is due" theme of this post, the City released a Master Plan for the Key Highway Waterfront addressing these issues. The plan talked about restricting building heights (no walls of high rises) and not blocking sight from Federal Hill.
Though there has been lots of development on Key Highway, there are still vacant lots. For instance, Harborview is far from complete. There are two parcels directly adjacent to the 29 story Harborview high rise. When the market turns around, construction will commence on the ultra upscale "Pinnacle at Harborview." Pinnacle is the scaled back version of what was to be two high rises both of which were to be 26 stories. Since this goes against the "the no wall of high rises" approach, Pinnacle was dropped down to 17 stories. There are no plans as to what the height of the third building will be. Pinnacle and most likely the third building on that lot will be gated which will only add to the lack of walkability that Key Highway has grown accustomed to. How about from here on out we shy away from Gated Communities on Key Highway?
With that in mind, lets take a walk down Key Highway to take a look at develop-able parcels. First there's Covington St. across from Harborview and Digital Harbor High School. There are plans to put a high rise on this very narrow piece of land. I do not support this and neither does the South Baltimore Community. What I do support is 3-4 story mixed use buildings that look like Federal Place Town Homes right behind them. The only difference is, these will have ground floor Retail that faces Key Highway. In that same area are two pieces of triangular land both with blighted uses that could be suited for 6 Story Apartment Buildings with ground floor Retail.
Between Harborview and Little Havana (which is under going a large renovation) is a parking lot that is part of the Harvorview Property waited to be developed. That could make a 7-9 story building with ground floor Retail along with half of the empty warehouse next to it. The remaining half of the empty warehouse could be demolished to give a better view of the water to Clement St and Webster St. Residents. Webster St. and Clement St for that matter could both made into a walkways to the pier. 
On the other side of Webster St., there's a narrow piece of property that would make for a good 12 story high rise. A building this tall would only work here because there it wouldn't obstruct the view of the water from other buildings. In order to ensure walkability on Key Highway, the Fire Department Repair Shop next to Museum of Industry would have to be demolished. In its place, another building with Apartments and Condos but it would only be 6-8 stories. There's a 9 story building going up at the former General Electric sight so making this building taller than 9 stories would obstruct the view. Both of these buildings will have ground floor Retail.
As for Key Highway itself. the road is due for a makeover. This includes fresh asphalt pavement, red brick crosswalks, more stylish street lights, pedestrian signals where there are none and to replace the aging median strip with fresh red bricks and new plantings. This doesn't make Key Highway anymore walkable per-se but it creates a more welcoming environment than what it is there now and how welcoming the environment is translates into how walkable the Community is. Stay tuned for my next article in the series.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Hampden-Woodberry: The Gold Standard of Walkability

I actually had no intention or idea I would be writing this article. I figured I would start this series by addressing areas I thought walkability or lack there of, would be the start. However, I took a walk around the area yesterday near the Light Rail Stop and up 41st St. all the way to the Rotunda and back. Well actually some that was journey was with the help of the Hampden Shuttle Bug. I couldn't help but realize how incredibly the walkable the Community is and how beautiful the area is as well. Hampden-Woodberry, I christen thee the Gold Standard of Walkability.
The history of Hampden-Woodberry is all around us. Most of the new development that has come to the pipeline recently actually hasn't been new at all. It has been the restoration of the Mills that were once the major Employers of the Mill Villages that would become Hampden-Woodberry. It wasn't until recently that the Mills were thought of as assets to the Neighborhood, in fact it was quite the contrary. The Mills were old blighted and boarded up.
36th St. or the Avenue was and still is the piece de resistance of Hampden. Woodberry seemed to be worlds away as it was not only west of Falls Road but also west of the JFX. It should be mentioned that before the JFXs construction, Hampden and Woodberry were seamlessly together. As the Avenue began breathing new life into Hampden, it seemed that the Light Rail Stop was worlds away. After all, it was in Woodberry which at the time was in the middle of nowhere and the Avenue was in Hampden. Of course the Light Rail Stop is just a few blocks away from the Avenue but given the "no man's land" status of the Light Rail Stop and that it was near the vacant mills, very few utilized it.
The Real reason the Light Rail Stop wasn't used by Hampdenites, was because it just wasn't that walkable. Given the fact that many new Residents in Hampden don't have cars and/or prefer walking, there had to be a way to connect the Light Rail Stop to the Avenue. It was then that the Shuttle Bug was conceived. The Shuttle Bug improved Hampden's walkability by immeasurable proportions. The Shuttle Bug runs through Hampden and Woodberry with stops on the main roads and intersections Hampdenites better access to the Light Rail Station, something that was lacking before hand. This also breathed new life into Hampden west of Falls Road still closer to the Light Rail Station. This made the walk under the JFX to get to the Light Rail Station and Woodberry a little less scary. 
As vacant row homes in Hampden began to be occupied again, the demand for housing, retail, and office space remained. There isn't much room for new construction so developers had to look at other options. They began to look at the possibility of rehabbing the old Mills that had provided employment the area for generations prior. The interest generated by rehabbing the Poole & Hunt Complex (renamed Clipper Mill) as mixed use sparked not only new construction on the site, but it allowed developers to pursue rehabbing other Mills in the area.
As the 2000s turned into the 2010s, Union Mill, Meadow Mill, Mount Vernon Mill 1&4, and Clipper Mill (the real one) were slated for reuse as mixed use development projects. This provided the much needed link between the Avenue and the Woodberry Light Rail Stop. This coupled with the Shuttle Bug gave Hampden its own Light Rail Stop. Although the distance between the Avenue and the Light Rail Stop hadn't changed, the only thing that had changed was its walkability. The rehabbing of the Mills created a welcoming environment full of life and lots of foot traffic all around the Light Rail Stop which encouraged more Residents to use the Light Rail Stop whether they walked there or took the Shuttle Bus. The Walkability is what ultimately reunited Hampden-Woodberry even with the JFX. 
When looking in the future to make more Neighborhoods or Neighborhood clusters walkable, look no further than Hampden-Woodberry, the Gold Standard.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Lets Make Baltimore More Walkable

Although I consider Baltimore to be a very walkable City, there is always room for improvement. Whether it's an additional line or stops on the Charm City Calculator, adding more sidewalks to recently redeveloped areas of the city, adding lighting, redevelopment of eyesores, or just about anything to provide a more welcoming environment to certain areas of the City, making Baltimore more walkable is key to the continued growth of the City and to continue to add Neighborhoods to the City's showcase. What will follow is a series of areas in the City that I believe will benefit from being more walkable. Stay tuned for more!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Marketplace at Fells Point: A Delicate but Worthwhile Endeavor

Although the Inner Harbor was the turning point for gentrification along the waterfront, Fells Point was ground zero for Residential Gentrification. At the time, there weren't really any Residences in the Inner Harbor area as the site for Inner Harbor East was nothing but surface parking lots. As Fells Point began to gentrify, two areas became known as the crowns & jewels of Fells Point; Broadway (the two blocks in which the Broadway Market is located) and Thames St. due to its waterfront access.
The gentrification of Fells Point spread like wildfire to Little Italy, Canton, Patterson Park, Butchers Hill,  Greeektown, Brewers Hill, Historic Jonestown, Inner Harbor East, Federal Hill, Locust Point, Otterbein, and South Baltimore. A lot of these Neighborhoods had ample space for new construction. This is something that Fells Point doesn't have. Larger Retailers have no choice but to go to newly constructed shopping areas like Canton Crossing, McHenry Row, and Inner Harbor East. Thames St. does have lots of great Retail and Restaurants but their footprints are only so big. Could Fells Point be losing its shine? It would certainly take a delicate but worthwhile endeavor enhance the Neighborhood. 
Large plots of new construction in Fells Point are hard to come by. The Crescent was built at Henderson's Wharf featuring Apartments & Town Homes, other than that, rehabbing existing buildings be they Row Homes or Industrial Buildings has been the order of the day. Granted there have been some infill areas throughout Fells Point where new construction has taken place. As new Retail and Residential construction continued throughout other Harbor Neighborhoods, more and more vacant storefronts popped up in Fells Point, most notably the 600 block of S. Broadway. Could this be the siren call for new construction in Fells Point?
Well not exactly, you see the 600 block of Broadway was once one of Fells Point's show case blocks. It's just a few blocks away from the water and Thames St. It's also just block north of the 700 block of S. Broadway where the Retail is much livelier. Perhaps the most important reason that the 600 block of S. Broadway isn't conducive to new construction is because the historic Boradway Market is in the median of this block (as well as the 700 block.) It should also be noted that the facades in the 600 block are well preserved and demolishing them would not be beneficial. 
That being said, the buildings are quite shallow and there was land behind them on both sides of the street. In 2005, a developer known as "South Broadway Properties LLC" began the delicate but worthwhile endeavor of purchasing the properties on both sides of the 600 block of South Broadway whether vacant or occupied. The intent was and still is to turn the block into a vibrant mixed use with all amenities of new construction while still remaining true to the character of the surrounding blocks. The result would become Marketplace at Fells Point. Properties in the 600 block that had been acquired and vacated had a logo of "MP" on the windows and/or an artist's rendering of the block thriving after construction.
So what exactly is Marketplace at Fells Point? Like I said before, it's a mixed use development that capitalizes on the location and the fact that the existing buildings are shallow as well as their historic character. In order to preserve the facades of the buildings and provide the amenities of new construction, everything but the bricks of the front facades had to be demolished. Now you can see how delicate this venture is, just one little mistake and the historic facades could be just that;history. 
Behind the facades would be ground floor Retail presumably more upscale than its predecessors. The buildings will go back deeper taking advantage of the land that was behind them. Above the Retail, there will be 159 brand new Apartments. Not since the Crescent at Fells Point has there been a number of new construction Residential in Fells Point. Sure Inner Harbor East is just nect door as is Canton but those looking for a brand new Apartment and are dead set on Fells Point, needn't look any further.
One great thing about Marketplace at Fells Point is that it's almost all landlocked by existing buildings. That means the new construction doesn't stick out like a sore thumb. It's only barely visible to the naked eye and said naked eye would have to be quite familiar with the area in order to differentiate between the two. The Apartments are nearing completion and are being leased up like hotcakes. The Retail portion is still under construction but with the growth generated from the Apartments and new Residential construction throughout southeast Baltimore as a whole, I'm sure the Retail portion will be just as easy to lease out to smaller footprint Retailers upon completion.
It may have taken a while but Marketplace at Fells Point is nearing completion and it surely has been and will continue to be a delicate and worthwhile endeavor.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Not Your Great Granddaddy's Locust Point

What do you think of when you think of Locust Point? If your entire Family generation after generation has grown up in Baltimore, they will all have a different answer to that question. Although the answer to that question is different among the generations, none of the answers are wrong. The fact of the matter is, Locust Point has changed greatly throughout the generations but has always been an important part of Baltimore's celebrated history. Indeed, this is not your Great Granddaddy's Locust Point.  
Your Great Granddaddy might call Locust Point the first stop for European Immigrants entering the City. This was true as there was a direct ship line from Locust Point to Germany. Immigrants all throughout Eastern Europe traveled to Germany to travel to Baltimore entering in Locust Point. It wasn't just German and Eastern European Immigrants who emigrated to Baltimore. Irish, Scots-Irish, Italian, and Greek Immigrants also arrived in Baltimore via Locust Point. 
Your Granddaddy might call Locust Point a thriving Industrial and Residential Community filled with Shipping Channels, Factories, the world's largest Grain Elevator, and classic Baltimore Row Homes. This rang true for every Neighborhood with waterfront access and Locust Point was no different. The biggest names in manufacturing in Locust Point were Domino Sugar (pictured above), and Proctor and Gamble (Tide Point.) Workers in these Factories and Shipping Channels didn't have to travel far between work and home as the row homes in Locust Point housed those worked in the Neighborhood.
Now your Daddy might call Locust Point a Community struggling to maintain its industrial roots. As industry began to decline in America, so too did the Factories and Shipping Channel in Locust Point. Layoffs were all too commonplace as the workforce needed grew smaller. Some Locust Point Residents sought employment elsewhere and moved away. Others stayed put knowing no other home. Although Locust Point had lost some population just like the City as a whole, the rate was not nearly as high and residential urban decay was quite rare considering magnitude at which the workforce was cut.
Today, Locust Point is a hot bed for reinvestment and redevelopment. It seems every time you turn a corner there are new Apartments, Condos, Town Homes, and Retail being built or proposed. In the 2000s, several new developments were either built as new construction or existing industrial buildings were rehabbed for new uses. They include, Silo Point Condos (Old Grain Elevator), Tide Point Office Park, The Townes at Locust Point, Harbour Point Town Homes (not to be confused with Harbor Point), and McHenry Point located between Silo Point (pictured below) and Fort McHenry. 
These new developments mostly containing Town Homes have renewed interest in Locust Point and has caused further development to continue. Old pieces of land that was once industrial now is flanked with new Town Homes that although larger than their older Row Home counterparts, don't look out of place.
More recently the celebrated McHenry Row has brought a Harris Teeter along with an upscale selection of Retail, Offices, and Apartments to Locust Point in a compact footprint complete with parking garages. Just across Key Highway, the once Blue Collar Southside Marketplace has received a multi million dollar renovation that has seen more upscale stores move into vacant spaces. I guess my old post "Southside Marketplace: Get With the Times" didn't fall on deaf ears. 
Across from Southside Marketplace is the site of a demolished GE Service Center (pictured above) on the 900 block of Fort Avenue. The Buzzuto Group is proposing a nine story mixed use Apartment Retail Building that will cater to fitness buffs. The Apartment building will contain a yoga studio and indoor pool and a rooftop lounge. Although taller than other buildings in Locust Point, this new building site seems like the perfect location for something taller given that it's a Community Gateway.
At first there plans to make expand Tide Point (pictured above), by adding mixed use. This idea was nixed when a tenant known as "Under Armour" decided to take over the entire complex and build on the site meant for mixed use. Under Armour has helped breathe new life into the employment sector of Locust Point and help make it an even bigger draw than it already is. The future does indeed look bright for Locust Point.
From being known as Baltimore's "Ellis Island", to thriving Industrial Community, to the poster child for industrial down-sizing, to hip upscale waterfront magnet, it is clear that Locust Point has changed drastically over the generations and that this is not your Great Granddaddy's Locust Point. But I end this post with a question; What will Locust Point be for your Great Grandchildren?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Central Avenue: A Makeover at Last

There was once was a time when Central Avenue lived up to its name. It actually was in the "center" of the settlement once known as Baltimoretown. With the first three settlements being Jonestown, Oldtown, and Fells Point, it's easy to see why Central Avenue was given the name it carries to this day. Obviously some 623,000 Residents and several hundred years later, Baltimore is a different place but Central Avenue has a "center point" for Neighborhoods just southeast of Downtown.
Although Central Avenue is located near rapidly gentrifying Neighborhoods such as Little Italy, Inner Harbor East, Jonestown, Fells Point, Upper Fells Point, and eventually Harbor Point, Central Avenue really isn't a part of any of them. It does divide these Neighborhoods by creating a north south spine that cuts what should be a blending together of Neighborhoods with distinct identities yet all remain true assets to Baltimore as a whole.
Now how did Central Avenue get like this? My theory is that it was always seen as a diving line between Residential Neighborhoods, just look at all the dingy auto shops and low quality Retail that flanks the road. It may have been beneficial in the olden days to have such a dividing line in between these Residential Neighborhoods. Though as a whole southeast Baltimore was ethnically diverse, individual Neighborhoods were not. Little Italy was and still is Italian, Jonestown was historically home to Eastern European Jews, Fells Point and Upper Fells Point was divided into sections of Irish, German, and Polish Backgrounds. Although there are still vestiges remaining of their ethnic pasts still remaining in these communities, these Neighborhoods now play host to every culture and ethnicity under the sun.
So who lived in Inner Harbor East and Harbor Point? Back in their heyday, these communities took full advantage of their proximity to the water. In short, heavy industry lined the docks for importing and exporting and on the main land that is now flanked with ultra upscale Apartments, Offices, Boutiques, and Five Star Hotels was pure factories. In fact pretty much all of Harbor Point was taken up by the Allied Signal Chromium Plant, a major Employer for southeast Baltimore from 1845 up until the 1980s. Given its toxic manufacturing practices, the land that it once occupied was deemed contaminated when the factory closed. That meant a long decades long process of cleaning it up and making it suitable for development. If you were wondering why Harbor Point has remained vacant for so long, there's your answer.
The southern end of Central Avenue was and is where the blurred line separating Inner Harbor East and Harbor Point. The last remaining parcels of undeveloped land all have Central Avenue frontage. The southern most block of Central Avenue contains a rare sight in the high density Inner Harbor East; a surface level parking garage. Further up you will H&S Bakery's plant campus, the last remaining industry in the area. Although the area surrounding Central Avenue has been gentrified and redeveloped, Central Avenue itself remained elusive of that change until now. Finally, at last Central Avenue will get its long overdue makeover.
Harbor Point is what brought on the need for the makeover. Right not Central Avenue dead ends at Lancaster St. In order to make Harbor Point viable for development a bridge will be built over the water extending Central Avenue to Harbor Point. In fact, one could argue that Central Avenue will act as the gateway to Harbor Point. As the groundbreaking for Harbor Point draws closer, the remaining pieces of Inner Harbor East are falling into place. The blocks of Central Avenue containing the surface lot and H&S Bakery will be redeveloped into high end mixed use like the rest of Inner Harbor East. Something tells me that convincing H&S Bakery owner John Paderakis to move his plant wasn't a hard sell. After all he is the developer of Inner Harbor East and bought up all the land surrounding H&S Bakery starting in 1984.                                                                                                                         
So why is Central Avenue so ugly? My guess is that even though it's surrounded by nice showcase Neighborhoods, it's not like actually in them. Although it does cut through Inner Harbor East, John Paterkais has yet to relocate his H&S Bakery for redevelopment. Luckily the City and the Developers of Harbor Point are finally ready to give Central Avenue its much needed makeover. One big reason the Developers of Harbor Point are interested in improving Central Avenue is due to the fact that they will be extended it past Lancaster St. via a bridge over the water right onto the site for Harbor Point. Fortunately, with the City's help, the Developers of Harbor Point will be giving Central Avenue a makeover from Lancaster St. all the way to Madison St.

So what exactly does this makeover include? In addition to the extension to Harbor Point, the existing Central Avenue will receive streetscape enhancements, new pavement, a landscaped median, sidewalks, crosswalks, improved street lighting, and "mast arm" traffic signals. This will make Central Avenue more attractive for rehabbing vacant industrial buildings as mixed use Residential/Retail. Perhaps if any of the plethora of auto shop garages were to go out of business, a more attractive streetscape on Central Avenue will entice redevelopment of the site that houses a shuttered auto garage.
Fortunately gentrification has sprung up along certain parts of Central Avenue already. Part of the Holland Manufacturing Building has been leased to the Heavy Seas Alehouse and another portion has been leased to "Edges" Salon & Spa. There are other spaces available to lease as well. The Canal St. Malt House has been converted into Loft Styles Condos as well. In addition to Retail and Residential popping up in old Industrial Buildings, Start up E-Commerce Company known as "Groove Commerce" has moved into the old Fallsway Spring Building.
Although Central Avenue is surrounded by some of Baltimore's most sought after Neighborhoods, the road itself is still quite ugly. There are some exceptions with signs of life rehabbing old buildings but there's a lot more work to be done. Fortunately, the City and Harbor Point's Developer have taken notice and Central Avenue will get a makeover at last.