Friday, March 4, 2016

Pratt St.: On the Right Track

It all started here on Pratt St. Any type of gentrification, redevelopment, or population influx in Baltimore's Downtown, Inner Harbor, Southern, and Southeastern regions it all comes back to Pratt St. From roughly Calvert St. to President St., Pratt the southern most street running west to east before the Inner Harbor.
The views offered by Pratt St. are truly breathtaking and have only improved since the influential Harbor Place Shopping Mall and the Harbor Promenade opened in 1980. Many new developments, redevelopments, and Neighborhoods have built been as a result of Pratt St. and have begun to take the shine off of Pratt St. and to keep it as the City's true showcase, Pratt St. must be looked at comprehensively to fix what doesn't work and emulate what does. Luckily, Pratt St. seems to be on the right track.
This begs the questions; What is the right track? What is the wrong track? In what way is Pratt St. on the right track? In what way is Pratt St. on the wrong track? And most importantly, how does what's on the wrong track get moved to the right track? The answer to these questions boils down to simply one word: Retail. Retail will put Pratt St. on the right track.
When the Inner Harbor was in its infancy, Retail was contained to Harbor Place. At the time, this was sufficient because this island of gentrification was too small and many of the now glitzy Residential Neighborhoods were decades away from rebirths. Other than Harbor Place, Pratt St. was contained to housing Office Buildings, Hotels, and the Convention Center. Pratt St's Office Buildings however were a breath of fresh air due to their relative accessibility as compared to Charles Center whose buildings enclose in on each other.
As higher density development continued around the Harbor, the buildings became more and more mixed use. Whether it was Offices, Residences, or Hotel Rooms in the upper floors, one thing remains constant; Ground Floor Retail. When creating a higher density urban core which is what these developments are doing (including Pratt St.) it is crucial to get large volumes of foot traffic day and night. Retail plays the biggest part in creating that synergy.   
Parts of Pratt St. are on the right track while others are on the wrong track. In layman's terms that means that some buildings have mastered the art of ground floor Retail while others haven't quite gotten the hang of it. Much of this depends greatly on the age of the building and/or whether or not it has gone through major renovations.
Now lets take a look at some buildings. Here are the Pandora and Bank of America Buildings. Both buildings provide a great view of the water and are offered lots of foot traffic from Tourists and Residents alike just inches away from such attractions as Harbor Place, The Convention Center, The National Aquarium, and Camden Yards to name a few. Both of these Buildings do have a Retail component in them however how it's laid out leaves much to the imagination. To access said Retail, you have to inside the Building. 
There are no exterior entrances to the Retail. Worse yet, the very wide setback of the buildings decreases road visibility. This makes for Retail that doesn't draw in outsiders and restricts their customer base to Office Tenants. On the weekend this proves even more daunting as no other purpose draws masses into these buildings as most of the Offices are closed. As you could imagine, there are vacancies in the Retail spaces.
The PNC Building across the street however, got it right. Although this is an older building in the timeline of Pratt St.'s, the Retail spaces have their own separate entrances so nobody has to go in the Office Building. There are four Retail bays on the ground floor of this building including Sullivan's Stake House, Kona Grill, and of course a PNC Bank Branch while the 4th space is available for lease. 
The R2Integrated Building, formerly the City Paper Building, was a lot less Retail oriented until they built an addition that now houses some of Pratt St's hottest Retail attractions including Shake Shack. The owners of this owner building knew that newer is better when it comes to attracting Retailers and the success story can be transferred to building like the Bank of America Building and Pandora Building.   
Newer Buildings on Pratt St. are easier to pick out due to the fact that they don't have the very wide sidewalks in front of them and have greater road visibility. They also have modern Ground Floor Retail built into them lake Lockwood Place and the adjacent Lockwood Plaza.
Lockwood Plaza's very unique in that it features traditionally big box stores in a compact urban concept. It has however had its shares of ups and downs. It had once hosted a Fielene's Basement and a Best Buy in the second and third floors respectively, but both have since closed. Marshall's took over the second floor while the third floor remains vacant. I would love to see a tenant like Nordstrom Rack take over the third floor.
The last building we're profiling is the Constellation Energy Building. This is another newer Pratt St. Building whose entire ground floor Retail space is taken up by the hugely successful Ms. Shirley's Cafe. One reason I'd like to mention the success of Ms Shirley's is because the main tenant of its Office Building will be vacating it soon. Exelon, the parent company of Constellation Energy is currently building a brand new headquarters in Harbor Point. 
Ms. Shirley's has a large enough draw that it will remain successful until their office building is refilled. If the Bank of America Building were to lose a large tenant like that, the interior food court style Retail spaces would be doomed. That shows how crucial it is to update for outdoor access Retail spaces while increasing roadside visibility. Then and only then, can Pratt St. be completely on the right track.

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