Thursday, October 27, 2016

Baltimore's New East Side: The Next Phase

The redevelopment of East Baltimore by Hopkins has been controversial to say the least. Those still living in the distressed Neighborhood thought that re-populating the vacant blocks in its existing state would be better than tearing it all down. Since the intended land use of many of these blocks were not meant to be row homes anymore, redevelopment beat out preservation.
The origins of this redevelopment began with Hopkins' intention to build a Biotech Park north of its Hospital. In order to attract start up firms, Hopkins decided that the surrounding Neighborhood, which was distressed 30% vacant, had to be revitalized to make it a draw for its workers. The City applauded Hopkins efforts and allowed them to move forward with their plan. Block after block of vacant row homes were torn down in favor of mixed use development from Residential, Commercial, Retail, and Medical Uses. All and all, between 1200-1500 new and rehabbed homes would flank the blocks north of Hopkins.
The mid 2000s saw a flurry of demolition and redevelopment. The new East Baltimore was beginning to take shape. In 2008, like all other development in Baltimore and every City in the Country the economy crashing put the brakes on it. A few new Apartment Buildings and a block of new town homes became the only new development that Hopkins had to show for despite all the demolition. Not only that, the large Biotech Park that was to be the cornerstone of the new East Baltimore began needing smaller and smaller amounts of lab space while some companies pulled out all together.
As the 2000s became the 2010s, not much had changed on the development front. The vacant lots remained vacant and the vacant row homes also remained vacant. The vitality of the development was also questioned many times since the project had stalled completely. This was not uncommon because multiple large projects throughout the City had stalled during this time and their vitality was questioned. In some cases, the vitality is still being questioned and these projects have yet to get off the ground.
Obviously this sent Hopkins planners back to the drawing board as they had too much invested to see this fail. Some of the land meant to house Biotech Offices and Labs were developed as Apartments meant to lure in Med Students studying at the Hospital. A Walgreens has opened on the ground floor of this building. In addition, a 15 story mixed use building housing a Marriott Residence Inn and ground floor Retail space is under construction next door to the new Apartments. That same block is currently housing "Eager Park" which provides a park like oasis in the middle of the Hopkins Complex.
On the Residential side of things, the vacant blocks of Eager St. which have come to represent the stalled nature of the project, are finally seeing sign of life as well. Mostly, they will be developed as mixed income town homes but the swaths if land closer to the Hospital will be Apartments. Perhaps the crown & jewel of this new Neighborhood has been the Hopkins-Henderson Elementary School. Given how scarce School Construction has been in the City, it's nice to see that Hopkins has stepped in to help build a brand new School for the City and replace the aging Elmer A. Henderson Elementary which had been this area's local School.
Although new construction has been picking up, I would like to point out what I consider to be the more remarkable transformation; Rehabs. To keep the traditional row house nature of East Baltimore alive in the midst of redevelopment, Hopkins has allowed blocks of row homes that are salvageable to be gutted and rehabbed. Rehabbed row homes have quietly been bought up and are being occupied by new owners along Broadway, Chase St., Preston St., McDounogh St., and Gay St.
What's even more exciting is that row homes outside of the Hopkins Redevelopment area are getting rehabbed as a result. Broadway north of the area, Preston St. and Caroline St. west of the area and the Milton-Montford area east of the area has been dubbed "Station East." These outside rehab blocks show that private investment and ownership is on the rise and that the Hopkins Redevelopment is creating a "Tentacle Effect" reaching beyond its boundaries.
Since East Baltimore is considered a "Food Desert", this next project is all the more exciting. At the abandoned Eastern Pumping Station just north of the Hopkins Redevelopment area, will be a Food Hub. This will create jobs for the area as well as fresh food. In addition to the jobs and job training offered, much of this currently vacant land will become a much needed urban farm.
Although it may have been long stalled, East Baltimore has entered its next phase. Although there are many good things on the book for East Baltimore, this surely isn't the last phase of large scale redevelopment and reinvestment to create Baltimore's New East Side.  

Monday, October 17, 2016

East North Avenue: A Haven for Investment

North Avenue has been in the news a lot lately for representing all that's wrong with Baltimore and urban America as a whole. I'd like to take this opportunity to tell show all the potential the eastern end of North Avenue has to become a thriving community. There are many hidden gems hidden throughout East North Avenue and surrounding areas that can help lead the way to a great future. There are also many pitfalls in the area which I would like to turn around and make the gems they rightfully should be. In order to do that, East North Avenue must be a haven for investment.
Nothing is more helpful to a disinvested Community than reinvestment. It shows its citizens that the City hasn't forgotten about them. The end result is a nicer Community! East North Avenue doesn't have very many of these examples but there is a big one happening along the road itself; streetscape enhancements. On North Avenue between Harford Road and Washington St. a $2 Million grant has been given to repave the road, redo the sidewalks, put crosswalks in the intersections, upgrade lighting, replace traffic lights, and add pedestrian signals. This is a great start for these blocks but I think the streetscape enhancement areas should be expanded in both directions. Westbound to Greenmount Avenue and Eastbound to Baltimore Cemetery.
East North Avenue has some investment coming its way and doesn't even know it. For instance, as part of Hopkins Redevelopment project in Middle East, many blocks north of Hopkins along Broadway are seeing their long vacant row homes rehabbed and sold. This trend of reinvestment is making its way towards North Avenue. What I would like to see is something I call a "tentacle effect" where northbound streets have reinvestment trending northward to North Avenue. More specifically Gay St. and Harford Avenue.
Along North Avenue, I don't want there to be too much demolition. Although redevelopment will occur, I would like that to be on land that is already vacant. Given the success stories of rehabbing row homes in other parts of East Baltimore, I would like to see the same happen along North Avenue. I do however, have a couple of redevelopment zones in mind for East North Avenue which as I noted above, are areas where demolition has already occurred.

A big area of redevelopment will be on Gay. St. The southern most blocks of Gay St. are included in the Hopkins redevelopment and blocks closer to North Avenue, the American Brewery Building has been lovely restored and across the street, a new Senior Center has just been built. In between those areas however, are several vacant and almost vacant blocks along Gay St. Since new mixed income town homes have done well in other parts of East Baltimore, I'm proposing several new blocks of housing along Gay St. and surrounding blocks to further the "tentacle effect."
The other redevelopment area also includes Gay St. but this section is above North Ave. There are some vacant industrial areas with a few vacant row houses strewn about the area bordered by North Avenue, Collington Avenue, Sinclair Lane, and Gay St. A redevelopment project of this magnitude will change the entire landscape of the eastern end of the North Avenue. The new development will contain mostly new row homes as well as row house style Apartments with ground floor Retail where there's North Avenue Frontage.
Although some redevelopment is included for E. North Avenue, the vast majority of the population growth I would like to see is from reinvestment in the current housing stock. Further south, around Hopkins, there are incentives for Hopkins workers to buy in the area. I would like to repeat that incentive model for E. North Ave. Instead of Hospital workers, this time I would provide it for workers of Social Services and the Eastside District Courthouse. There are other distressed areas of the City that don't have much in the way of nearby employment areas. E. North Avenue has this advantage and the Community can further sustain itself if nearby workers became nearby Residents.
Another aspect of E. North Avenue I want to promote is focal points. These focal points will draw visitors into the area and help promote a welcoming environment. One of the best assets of the area is the newly rehabbed Columbus School. The Great Blacks in Wax Museum is also great draw to the area but I believe exterior facade renovations will help achieve focal point status as well.
The old Ashley Apartments are a focal point but for all the wrong reasons. The vacancy and decay of this architectural diamond in the rough show just how beautiful the area once was. Due to the size and historic nature of the building, the cost of restoring and rehabbing this building will be very high. This poses a problem to E. North Avenue because it hinders development in its current state but developers won't want to invest a red cent in it until the surrounding Neighborhood makes big improvements. The uses of a rehabbed Ashley Apartment building are endless. With that in mind, I'm proposing mixed use Retail/Office/Community/Residential and make it a focal point for all the right reasons.
As development in Hopkins and Station North continues, a comprehensive next step must be taken in order to keep the synergy of those areas going. E. North Avenue is the logical next step to connect these two areas. By marketing E. North Avenue as a haven for investment it will then become just that; A Haven for Investment.