Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Sit On It: 2017 Edition

Back in the depths of the recession, I wrote a post called "Sit On It." The idea of that post was that developers who owned land for development and redevelopment projects needed to hold off or "Sit On" their investments until the market turned around and their plans would once again become feasible. Today, the market has turned around and is responding nicely to new development of all uses in Baltimore. However, the sheer volume of development proposals coming down the pipeline might allow for an excess of space if all done at once. So despite the development friendly climate, some developers will have to "Sit On It" in 2017.
In 2017 many recently completed or under construction projects with a variety of uses are going to flood the market if they haven't already. These projects include but aren't limited to; Stadium Square, Port Covington, Hopkins/East Baltimore, 414 Light St., 10 Light St., McHenry Point Phase II, The Rotunda, Harbor Point, Harborview, Inner Harbor East, Marketplace at Fells Point, Bank of America Building Retail, Banner Hill Apartments, Cross Street Market Redevelopment, Della Note Site, 300 E. Prat St., and Anthem House Apartments. This is a lot of new development going up in a very short time in very small place. That being said, there are many more proposals around these same areas that aren't under construction yet. These are great proposals and had there been less competing developments, I would say full speed ahead. Alas, these additional developers have to "Sit On It."
The first development is State Center. I'm aware that Larry unilaterally pulled the plug on this development but if it should be resurrected, the developers should still sit on it. Since the existing State Office Buildings are falling apart, I think the State Offices should move out of those Buildings and into vacant Office space throughout Downtown. When the market turns around, the development should be re-visited and McCulloh Homes should be redeveloped with State Center.
Next we have the Edison Properties. Currently this is nothing but surface parking lots. This could easily be an eastbound expansion of Downtown going towards Hopkins. It would be very doubtful that any development would occur on the Edison Properties until the JFX is dismantled and it can be linked to Downtown.
Next, we have the parcel of land surrounded by Guilford Avenue, Holiday St, and Saratoga St. This is also a surface parking lot that is poised for a mixed use development. You may recognize this parcel from my 2008 "Sit On It" post and although it's a prime parcel in Downtown, it's still not the right time to pursue it.
Next we come to the Mechanic Opera House. This ugly building had been shuttered and was finally demolished. At the moment the developer is embroiled in lawsuits which is currently halting the mixed use tower that is proposed for this site at Baltimore St. and Charles St. This may be a blessing in disguise since the market is swarmed with projects similar to this.
Another Sit On It development is Old Town Mall and Somerset Homes. I've written extensively on this area and I don't believe any redevelopment can occur until Gay St. is restored as a one way northbound street for vehicular traffic. Somerset Homes on the other hand, probably will remain a vacant plot of land until Old Town Mall is redeveloped. Like the Edison Properties, Old Town Mall is east of the JFX so any redevelopment that occurs should also be done after the JFX is dismantled.
Now we come to 25th St. Station. This development was flawed from the start. Its aim was to bring "Big Box Retail" to the Charles Village/Remington area at the site of the closed Anderson Automotive Car Dealership. Its anchors were to be Lowes and Wal Mart with junior anchors akin to Staples and Ana's Linens. Lowes pulled out and the project was re-worked with Wal Mart as the soul anchor. Residents did not want a Wal Mart in their neighborhood so it too was removed from the plans. Although this is prime land, the future of 25th St. Station is unknown. Like other development projects on this list, it's located in an area that's surrounding by new development and investment so even if there were real plans, the developers should Sit On It.
The Convention Center Redevelopment. Although a newer larger and modernized Convention Center is desperately needed, the plans for mixed use around and above it are a little too far gone at the moment. This might have to be a phased redevelopment where the new Convention Center is built and can begin re-booking Cons that have left the City in favor of other Venues while the larger picture of mixed use around and above it could be done in the future. This could be done similarly to the Four Seasons at Inner Harbor East.
Harborview Lots 6 &7. The Harborview high rise once stood as the lone representation of redevelopment on the key highway waterfront. Since the early 2000s that has changed as Harborview has added town homes, low rise Condos and the planned "Pinnacle at Harborview" mid rise and high rise towers. Unbeknownst to many, the addition of the Pinnacle buildings are not the final buildings for Harborview. On either side of the Little Havana, there are surface level parking lots that will eventually become high rises that will complete the Harborview Development. It has been promised that these buildings will not obstruct water water front views from Clement St., Webster St., and Anchor St. Given the flurry of current construction along Key Highway, it's easy to see that the Harborview Developers will have to continue to "Sit On" Lots 6&7.
Finally there's the Pepsi Bottling Co. The sign on the JFX has become an iconic landmark for drivers coming and going from Downtown for decades. However, it appears that plant's days soon be numbered as the Development firm Himmelrich and Associates has purchased the land that the plant sits on and intends to turn into mixed use anchored by a Harris Teeter. If done right, this will complement the Mills in this area that have recently been rehabbed beautifully as mixed use. Given this site's proximity to all of these Mills and new Town Homes under construction in Hampden, I'm afraid Himmelrich might have to "Sit On" this development a little longer. They're actually doing just that as Pepsi is renting the site back to them until further notice.
It's great that after a recession that brought investment and development in Baltimore to a grinding halt in 2008 has begun to pick up steam again and the City is seeing new development again. Developers seem to be making up for time lost during the recession as developments are coming down the pipeline at break neck speed one after the other. In order for the market to be able to absorb all of this development though, some Developers will just have to "Sit On It" until further notice.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Greater Lexington Market: Finally Its Own Superblock

Perhaps the second most challenged part of Downtown's Westside is Lexington Market. The honor of being first goes to the "Super Block" of course. For decades, there have been ideas to improve the public market and its surrounding areas and most if not all of them have fallen flat. Lately, there have been initiatives to reinvest in or redevelop public markets in the City. The one that's been getting the most news has been Cross Street Market in Federal Hill. There are also plans going through the pipe line to redevelop or revamp Hollins Market and Broadway Market. Lexington Market originally would be getting a $2 Million Face Lift.
Now Lexington Market may finally be getting the chance it so desperately needs. Plans are now on the books (but funding isn't) to completely redevelop the market. The price tag for this tear down and rebuild is estimated at $40 million, a far cry from giving the existing building a face lift at a mere $2 million. When this part of the City is given a gift like this, it requires thinking big. If Baltimore is getting a brand new Lexington Market, what will that mean for its surroundings? Will the demand for other uses go up? I personally believe so, and I think the four square blocks immediately surrounding the market deserve a master plan so that they may be redeveloped and/or rehabbed as the Lexington Market Superblock.
The Center Point for this new Super Block will be the intersection of Lexington and Paca St. and will have the borders of Greene St, to the west, Fayette St. to the south, Eutaw St. to the east and Saratoga St. to the north. The current redevelopment plan involves building a brand new building just south of the current one, extending Lexington St. between Paca and Eutaw St. and putting in a park where the current building stands. Although I largely support this plan especially the park since this part of the City severely lacks green space, I don't feel that extending Lexington St. would be appropriate as this separates the market from the park. I would like to see the two linked together without a major thoroughfare separating them.
Just south of Lexington Market in the 400 block of Fayette St., demolition crews are making way for another redevelopment project. This will help bridge the current perceived gap between UMB and Lexington Market. The planned building, called "University Lofts" will feature 230 market rate Apartments in a 12 story building with ground floor Retail. The 500 block of Fayette and the 100 block of Greene St. has been handsomely rehabbed and redeveloped as "University Square at Fayette Courts." No further work needs to be done in this area of the Lexington Market Super Block.
The south side of the 500 block of Lexington St. and the west side of the 100 block of Paca St. are both in need of investment. Given that these are buildings are traditional row house style architecture that appear to be in relatively decent shape, I don't see a need for demolition and redevelopment. Instead, I envision these buildings being rehabbed completely and the end product resembling the newly rehabbed 300 and 400 blocks of W. Baltimore St.
Perhaps the most dramatic transformation of this Super Block is the northwestern end of it. This is currently a very short parking garage with a few Retail bays scattered throughout it. Before the economy crashed, there plans to build three high rise Apartment and Condo Buildings with 100 units each and 23 town homes over top of the existing garage. The ill-fated development was to be known as "The Residences at Lexington Market." Originally, I was all for reviving this very ambitious project.
Although bringing new Residences to the area is something that is desperately needed, I would like to revamp the plans and bring something to the area that I think will better complement what is already there and what is proposed to go there. Rather than keeping the short parking garage, I would demolish the whole thing and start from scratch. Since this particular area doesn't have high rises, I would prefer something mid-rise in the 5-7 story range. Although this new Residential building will have a parking garage, I would like to see the building wrapped around it. ground floor Retail will be present along the Lexington and Paca St. sides while the ground floor Saratoga and Greene St. will remain Residential. I envision the end result something akin to the new Jefferson Square at Washington Hill Apartments.
The final part of the Super Block is the 400 block of Saratoga St. more specifically the south side. and the 200 block of Eutaw St. Currently this block is dilapidated row house Retail. I personally think the new Lexington Market should have a Hotel attached to it and the front of this new Hotel should located on Saratoga St. in the 400 block as well as the 200 block of Eutaw St. The existing parking garage will stay and will provide parking for both the market and the Hotel.
Although this covers the reinvestment and redevelopment of the Lexington Market Super Block, there are still numerous areas around these blocks that can and should benefit from it. Examples include but aren't limited to Saratoga St. east of Paca St. and the west side of the 200 block of Greene St. both of which are surface parking lots. The Lexington Market redevelopment currently only includes the market itself. When looked at comprehensively as a Super Block, it shows that four surrounding blocks and then some are ripe for reinvestment and redevelopment to complement the Market itself.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Howard & Franklin: The New Superblock

News on the development front concerning the Super Block has non existent or has been filled with setbacks that has left little for the Super Block. There are those that say that entire Westside of Downtown's revitalization efforts hinge on the Super Block. There are also those that say that the Westside should continue revitalization efforts throughout the area which will in turn add value and developer interest to the Super Block.
My approach favors the latter. If the Super Block isn't feasible right now, lets focus on what is feasible. By doing so, I have found that not only have there been recent successes throughout the Westside, but there are many redevelopment projects coming down the pipeline. The ones I would like to focus on are centered around Howard St. and Franklin St. This currently desolate block(s) has seen lots of developer interest as of late. So much so that I have deemed it "The New Super Block."
Like any Super Block, the area in question covers four square blocks that Howard and Franklin is smack dab in the middle. The actual area covered is Eutaw St. to the west, Centre St. to the north, Park Ave to the east, and Mulberry St. to the south. This area is actually a very important chunk of land as far as what's in its proximity. It has Mount Vernon to the east, historic Seton Hill to the west, Lexington Market to the south, and Bolton Hill and State Center to the north. The light rail runs right down Howard St. and both the Subway and MARC lines nearby.
So what new development is going on around Howard and Franklin? At the southwestern corner 50 Apartments above ground floor Retail is planned. The remaining facades along Howard St. will remain but buildings along Franklin St. will be demolished. Given the lack of clean affordable housing in the area, the Developer wants to keep rents affordable for local Teachers and Firefighters who may not have been able to afford to live Downtown otherwise. This new development will stretch from Franklin St. to Mulberry St. on the east side of Howard St.
On the southwest side of  Howard and Franklin there is already a small glimmer of hope. An old building has been rehabbed as "St. James Place Apartments" and has a Remax Real Estate Office on the ground floor. Heading southbound on Howard St. towards Mulberry St., the buildings are still boarded up however. Fortunately there is developer interest in 400 N. Howard which is at the northwest corner of Howard and Mulberry. With that building rehabbed as mixed use with Retail on the ground floor and Apartments above, the remaining buildings on the west side of the 400 block of Howard St. between St. James Place Apartments and 400 N. Howard will begin to see reinvestment and redevelopment.
The northwest corner of Howard and Franklin is currently seeing some demolition. The old Franklin-Delphey Hotel is hitting the wrecking ball. It is currently unclear what will go in its place but the building's dilapidated condition has made it impossible to preserve. Also in the 500 block of Howard St. just north of the now demolished Franklin-Delphey is the long vacated Mayfair Theater. When I think of the crumbling theater, it becomes a symbol of all the blight the Westside of Downtown has suffered over the years. However, despite its decades of neglect, it's still a beautiful building. Fortunately, historic preservationists think so too and the front facade must be saved if and when any redevelopment project occurs. Next to the Mayfair is success story; the Old Western High School was transformed to the Chesapeake Commons Apartments.
The northeastern block of Franklin and Howard is currently undergoing the most profound transformation of the Howard-Franklin "Super Block" This block currently contains the old Hoschild-Kohn Furniture warehouse at 520 Park Avenue which has been rehabbed into the mixed use called 520 Park. The remainder of this block had currently been a surface lot. Right now, a new mixed use building is under construction known as 500 Park. Although the front of this building faces Park Avenue, it will provide revitalization for the entire block including the northeastern corner of Howard and Franklin.
This particular development is slated bridge the gap between the Westside of Downtown and Mount Vernon. The western edge of Mount Vernon is made up of mostly residences and very little retail which limits the amount of foot traffic in the area. With projects like 520 Park and 500 Park, foot traffic will increase between Mount Vernon and Downtown's Westside.
Since the "Super Block" of Howard and Franklin encompasses four square blocks, there are parts of these blocks in question that may not have frontage to Howard and Franklin but I would still like to see reinvestment or redevelopment done on behalf of the "Super Block." This includes the 400 and 500 blocks of Eutaw St. The 400 block would be the redevelopment of the out of place "Mulberry Courts" into Row House/Retail. This same concept would be used for the 500 block which is currently a surface parking lot behind the old Mayfair Theater and is next to the Old Congress Hotel.
 Although the original Super Block is at a standstill, that doesn't mean that new development in the Westside of Downtown has to be as well. There are numerous other "Super Blocks" throughout the area that can bring the Westside on par with the rest of Downtown and connect it to Mount Vernon. Today, that Super Block is at Howard and Franklin.