Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Let the Gentrification of Russell Street Begin

Russell St. has always been the back door to Downtown via I-95. Its gritty industrial appearance doesn't scream "Welcome to Baltimore" the way I-395 does what with Camden Yards on the left, Otterbein on the right, and Downtown straight ahead. When M&T Bank Stadium opened, little changed as far as the appearance of the surrounding area. And why should it have? It's not like the Ravens are playing home games all day everyday. I'm saying the Stadium isn't a draw, I'm just saying it didn't do much for Russell St.
Fast forward to August 2014 and a new large institution has opened on Russell St; The Horseshoe Casino. Unlike M&T Bank Stadium this is meant to attract crowds all day every day and even into the night. This gives people on Russell St. the opportunity to explore the area around the Casino instead of just speeding by it as has been the case. Well there's nothing really there to explore along Russell St. besides the Casino itself and it doesn't have any outward facing Restaurants or Retail of any kind. All Russell St. has is Gas Stations, Storage Facilities, a Holiday Inn Express, and lots of aging industrial properties with varying degrees of occupancy. I'm proposing to turn the Russell St. Corridor into a mixed use haven anchored by the Casino. So let the gentrification of Russell St. begin!
The opportunity for Waterfront Development along the Middle Branch was largely hindered by the construction of the Casino's parking garage. This is why I'm huge a proponent of underground parking garages. Since that won't be happening we'll have to deal with the hand we were given. As luck would have it there is a parking lot at the corner of Warner St. and Stockholm St. that can be turned into a mid rise Apartment/Condo building that directly overlooks the Middle Branch as well as the Casino, the Stadium, and the Gwynns Falls Trail. 
I'm not big on either of those Public Storage Buildings that flank . I think they could be put to more productive use further in the Carroll Camden Industrial Park. In their places would be more mid rise Apartment/Condo buildings with ground floor Retail wrapped around a garage. I would like to emphasize affordability on these projects to make the area a magnet for Casino Workers. The block that contains the Game Day Warehouse would be demolished except for the facade of the Game Day Warehouse where you guessed it! More Apartments and Condos would go. This time they'll be loft style. Ground Floor Retail can be found along Alluvion and Warner St.
On the north side of the train tracks, I'm proposing a broader mix of uses. On the north side east of Russell St. I'm proposing tearing down the dilapidated vacant industrial buildings in favor of parking garages. I'm not a fan of parking garages especially exposed ones like I'm putting here but the Stadiums will lose two lots to development I'm proposing so I'd like them to regain those spaces and perhaps more.
There are two parking lots here that can be developed as mid rise Office Buildings both with Ostend St. frontage. Whether or not there's ground floor Retail will depend on the demand for it. The parking garage for the building that will be built on Lot "O" will face the Railroad Tracks. The Paradox night club will be redeveloped as a higher end Hotel. A new Paradox Club will be integrated with the Hotel with separate entrances. In keeping with the theme of the two Offices Buildings, the Hotel/Paradox Night Club will have Ostend St. frontage.
What I'm proposing a merely just the beginning of a long gentrification process that is sure to take off as Housing, Retail, Office and Hotel needs grow around the Casino. I've left out certain parcels along Russell St. because they're successful in the current use. The Gas Stations for instance, although they take up a lot of land, it's at the beginning/end of a highway so drivers would want to fill up as they enter the highway or are low gas as they exit the highway. Like I said, this is just the beginning but let the gentrification of Russell St. begin!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Could the New Apartments in South Baltimore Help its Parking Woes?

Ever been to South Baltimore? Of course you have, it's a great up and coming part of the City mixed with classic Baltimore Row Homes, New Apartments, Condos, and Town Homes as well as old industrial buildings being converted into Residences. Lets not forget the growing of Restaurants,Pubs, and Boutiques popping up throughout the Neighborhood especially around the Cross Street Market. So, if you want to experience Baltimore's day and night life, hop on the Light Rail and/or the Charm City Circulator and have a ball.
Oh, you want to drive to South Baltimore? You live in one of South Baltimore's classic row homes? So how and where do you park? This is one of the parts of the City that has been drawing young people from the suburbs as well as DC due to its relative affordability. This demographic has a high number of people who have ditched their cars. And why not? Urban living when done right, there is no need for a car. All one has to do is hop on a bus or rail transit of some sort if your destination isn't within a short walk from home or work.
Sadly South Baltimore is one of the parts of the City where a car is needed. This is also one of the oldest parts of the City so streets are only barely able to support two way traffic with on-street parking and those are the "wide" roads. This has created a problem; There's nowhere to park in South Baltimore. That's why in the first paragraph when I was singing South Baltimore's praises, I said take the Light Rail and/or the Charm City Circulator to avoid parking here. If you do live here or decide to bring your into South Baltimore, you will no doubt spend an extra 10-15 minutes circling the blocks surrounding your destination hoping to find a parking spot that isn't a driveway or doesn't have a fire hydrant in front of it. Keep in mind once you do find that miracle parking spot that's too good to be true, you're probably stealing from the true Resident of the Row Home you parked in front of. 
Like I said in the beginning, South Baltimore is an up and coming Neighborhood. What does that mean? It means that in addition to population growth from Residents rehabbing existing row homes and vacant industrial uses turned into Residences, new construction is going up at a break neck pace. Fortunately for those renting or buying new construction you most likely can bypass the parking woes since most new Apartments come with a parking garage with reserved parking. The same is with new Town Homes in South Baltimore as they are usually three or four stories tall and are much wider than their old row house counterparts, they have a driveways with either a one or two car garage. If it's a Community of new Town Homes it may even be gated.
Well it's obvious that the solution is more parking garages. Granted these structures are ugly and take away from the historic nature and welcoming environment all communities strive to achieve. South Baltimore is no exception. If one takes a look at the two recent mid-rise Apartment buildings that were just built along Wells St. near Charles St., don't appear to have an unsightly garage attached to them. Well that's what they want you to think. These buildings do in fact have their own garages but their buildings cover them up. In high density Apartment buildings these days, the parking garage is in the center of the structure much like a pool and outdoor gathering space does as well. This shields Residents of these buildings from South Baltimore's parking woes, but what about everyone else?
We can't expand the parking garages on the two new Wells St. buildings because they've been completed but there are several new Apartment buildings coming down the pipeline that can help address these problems. Even better news, they're not all concentrated in one place. They're spread throughout South Baltimore so a new parking garage could be near you. These proposed garages have enough spaces for their future Residents and perhaps a few extra spaces. If they were to add a couple of levels to these garages for visitors and nearby Residents, that would be a huge step in the right direction by lessening the parking woes.
First there's Stadium Square. This new multi building mixed development is located in the Sharp-Leadenhall Neighborhood will be built along the blocks of Race St. and Leadenhall St. between Hamburg St. and Ostend St. that are currently dead industrial zones. Plans for two of the buildings have come one is an Apartment Building with ground floor Retail. The Second Buildings is an Office Building (also with ground floor Retail) which will address the demand for Office Space in the area. Stadium Square is billed as a Tech Incubator for Baltimore. Both of these buildings and other buildings to come will have parking garages wrapped around them. If both buildings expanded their garages underground, then parking in this section of South Baltimore will become much easier.
Next there's a proposed Apartment Building where the currently vacant University of Maryland Specialty sits on S, Charles St. in Otterbein. Although the currently peaceful Neighborhood may feel threatened by this large new building and the life it will bring to it, current Residents can rest assure that ground floor Retail is not planned for this building as well as the fact that it will have a parking garage wrapped around which I'm also proposing to have extra spaces reserved in the area although this area isn't as effected by parking woes than as other parts are. 
Next there's Anthem House. Located at the entrance to Locust Point, this nine story ultra luxury Apartment Building may not need to have additional parking due to the fact that it's right near lots of other parking garages in McHenry Row and there's surface level parking in Southside Shopping Center both directly across the street from the Anthem House site. Still, I would add the additional spaces anyway just in case somebody intends on taking a westward walk along Fort Ave. where the parking becomes much tighter.
Perhaps the most crucial development proposal is the redevelopment of the Cross St. Market. Located in the heart of Federal Hill boutique Retail has popped up all over this popular destination. There is a stand alone parking garage next to the market but I would like to see more parking. My preference would be under-ground parking just beneath the redeveloped Market so as not further disturb the historic nature of the Community. 
Many South Baltimore Residents think that the addition of new high density Apartments will only increase the parking woes they're currently experiencing. If developers kept this in mind and added parking that's meant for people other than the tenants of their buildings, they would be an asset to the Community and help South Baltimore continue to thrive.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Port Covington Retail:Could It Be Revived?

Disclaimer!!!!! I had roughly composed this post BEFORE Kevin Plank took interest in Port Covington. I had enough Material to publish it as is.
Do you ever drive through the desolate streets of Port Covington and wonder what went wrong? I have googled earthed it many times and wondered the same thing. Finally I made it out there to take pictures and I wondered what went wrong. This was supposed to be a Mecca for Suburban Style Big Box Retail in the City that was previously unknown to City Residents. The Buildings and infrastructure of Downtown's Westside couldn't and wouldn't support this so Port Covington was hand-picked successor of Baltimore's Retail Future. Yet here we are today.
Port Covington is located at the southern edge of the South Baltimore Peninsula. Before the construction of I-95, this once industrial area was integrated to rapidly gentrifying Neighborhoods of South Baltimore north of the I-95 overpasses. Of course these large intrusive overpasses created a barrier between South Baltimore and Port Covington and the continuing decline of industry only increased the bleak future of the area. At this point in time South Baltimore itself was in decline with exception of Federal Hill and Otterbein.
In the early 2000s, it became obvious that the City needed to be home to the same type of suburban big box Retail that City Dwellers were going to in the County for to keep those tax dollars here in the City and lure more Residents in due to the convenience of big box Retail that's in the City. It also became obvious that the Westside of Downtown, Baltimore's historic Retail Mecca doesn't have the parking capacity, infrastructure, or the type of buildings that are required to host these large chain stores.
Meanwhile the Walton Family (owners of Wal-Mart and Sam's Club) have noticed the increase in population surrounding Downtown and they wanted to get in on it. They also noticed the lack of competition as their main competitors K-Mart and Target were nowhere to be found in Downtown Baltimore or anywhere near it. Now all they had to do was find a site, build on it, and they would be ready to roll and smaller suburban chain stores such as Restaurants or medium sized box stores were sure to follow.
The question now became where can a vacant land parcel that's large enough for a big box center AND is very close to Downtown? At the time the best and perhaps only answer was Port Covington. Although there are a few active uses going on in Port Covington, there was also lots of vacant land especially the land directly overlooking the Middle Branch. At this point, the idea of building luxury Apartments along the shores of the Middle Branch was still a-ways away. 
Long story short WalMart and Sams Club built their stores in Port Covington. No other businesses ever followed suit. WalMart is still open but Sams Club(pictured above) had gone out of business years ago. Although it's close to Downtown it's not convenient to I-95 traffic, Cherry Hill, Brooklyn, or any other Neighborhood for that matter. This little island of failed would-be big boxed Retail just exists on mostly in a world of its own. One lesson painful lesson was learned from this little experience; Baltimore just can't support Big Box Retail.
Fast forward to 2013 and another waterfront Community proved the above statement wrong. Canton Crossing (pictured above) opened a big box Shopping Center in (you guessed it) Canton. Canton Crossing comes with a Target, Harris Teeter, Michaels, Old Navy, DSW Shoe Wharehouse, and Five Below. Not to mention a generous selection of Restaurants including Baltimore City's first Chick-Fillet. This time the Center was built in the middle of a densely packed Row House Neighborhood filled with new Apartments, Condos, and Town Homes with many more on the way. In short, Canton Crossing has a critical mass of consumers located within walking distance.
Two lessons were learned from Canton Crossing that could be transferred Port Covington. The first is that Baltimore City CAN in fact support Big Box Retail but that sight must be accessible and on the grid so to speak. The second lesson is that it must be near a critical mass of Residences and Offices who will automatically support these stores. These are both things that Canton Crossing has and Port Covington lacks. 
So, in staying true to the title of this post, how can we revive Port Covington and the Big Box Center that has died before our eyes? To answer that I suggest we would look at the more successful Canton Crossing. Port Covington simply needs a critical mass of Residences and Offices surrounding it. Now what is surrounding the ill-fated Center? Industry. It's no secret that industry is on the decline and has been for quite some time now. It might not be a bad idea to look at the industrial area west of the Center to see full the space is. 
Should this space become available, it would be perfect to redevelop as a mixed waterfront enclave not unlike Inner Harbor East and the soon to be built Harbor Point. Remember this is prime waterfront property granted it's the Middle Branch rather than the Inner Harbor but the Middle Branch is bound to be a magnet for those looking to buy waterfront after the Inner Harbor is built out. There's also the sad truth that the Baltimore Sun may not need a distribution plant as large as the one in Port Covington. If that closes, it can be torn down and redeveloped with Town Homes in a traditional urban grid fashion. 
With Port Covington as a real Neighborhood, the big box center can turn into a community gathering place where Retailers and Restaurants alike can flock to the area and will no longer be off the beaten path.