Saturday, July 15, 2017

Mondawmin Crossing I: The Mall

One of Baltimore's greatest successes in recent history has been Canton Crossing. No development before or since has been able to bring suburban style big box stores and integrate them into an urban setting in Baltimore. Since the site that Canton Crossing sits on was vacant industrial land, it didn't have to break up an urban grid to make way for the large footprint stores and/or the surface parking lot. Canton Crossing is also located in an area of the City where growth is at an all time high. New Residences and businesses are being built at break neck speed and it is quickly becoming a showcase area for the City.
Baltimore is not a small City. It has about 620,000 Residents. Logically, it can support at least one more big box type Retail Center similar to Canton Crossing. Indeed, a location for a big box Center was sought out in North Baltimore. It was in another high growth area where Station North, Remington, Charles Village, and Johns Hopkins University come together. It was to be called 25th St. Station because the Development was to be centered around 25th St. That plan fell apart for several reasons not the least of which was the fact that the site was in the middle of tightly packed urban grid.
Another site has to be sought out for Baltimore's next Big Box Center.
Luckily, I have a found a new location that will be perfect for Baltimore's next Big Box Center; Mondawmin Mall. Although when the words Mondawmin Mall are mentioned, it's easy to think of the starting point of the civil unrest that started in April 2015. In the aftermath of these riots many promises were made by various people to invest all around West Baltimore to improve the quality of life in this long neglected part of the City. Well, here we are more than two years later and nothing has changed. I would however like to start with redeveloping Mondawmin Mall as a Mixed Use TOD Big Box/Lifestyle Center that will begin reinvestment and redevelopment in surrounding Neighborhoods.
Although Mondawmin Mall had undergone a $60 Million Renovation, most of that went to the addition of Anchor tenants including Target, Shoppers, and Marshalls. The Mall had interior and exterior facade enhancements but its major renovation was decades ago which turned the vacant Sears (the Mall's first and only Anchor until 2008) into additional mall space. Today, indoor shopping malls not unlike Mondawmin are dying a slow painful death as bricks and mortar Retail is facing its reality that it has an excessive of space nationwide. In order for Malls to survive, it needs to be a large regional Mall that attracts from more than just the Neighborhood or in the case of Mondawmin, it needs to be redeveloped.
When I say redeveloped, I mean that the interior Mall needs to be redeveloped. The exterior Traget, Marshalls, and Shoppers needn't be changed. For Mondawmin, I have always envisioned Liberty Heights Avenue to be the front entrance to the Mall and Gwynns Falls Parkway the back. I would put both a Dick's Sporting Goods and a 14 Screen Movie Theater behind the Target and Shoppers with smaller shops between Target and Shoppers leading into the Movie Theater and the Dick's Sporting Goods. This portion of the parking lot has an underground parking garage which will be expanded and will be expected to house more of the cars for the Center. The Anchors in the front and Anchors in the back concept with smaller shops connecting them is reminiscent to the new Hunt Valley Town Centre.
The loop that circles around Mondawmin Mall will be reconfigured between the Target and the now vacant former MVA building so that a Forever 21 may be built on the other side of the Target. The vacant MVA building will be demolished to make way for a mixed use building that will house two Junior Anchors; Petco and AC Moore Crafts with 5-6 stories of Apartments on the upper floors wrapped around a parking garage. At the front of the Mall on Liberty Heights Avenue, a TGI Fridays opened on a pad site.
There are two to three more undeveloped pad sites along Liberty Heights that I would have developed into additional fast casual Restaurant Concepts. An additional pad site to house Bank of America which is currently in the Mall will be built on the far side of the Target Parking Lot. Since this redevelopment is TOD, I would redevelop/reconfigure the transit station at Liberty Heights Avenue and Reisterstown Road with the station under neath, Neighborhood Retail on the ground floor and 5-6 stories of Apartments above wrapped around a parking garage.
The redeveloped Mondawmin Mall or Mondawmin Crossing as I'd rename it, won't be an actual clone of Canton Crossing. It will be less upscale, more dense, and will lack Office Buildings that a future phase of Canton Crossing will have, Mondawmin Crossing will serve the purpose of giving Baltimore a second successful Big Box Retail Center that not only won't compete with Canton Crossing, but will complement it.

Monday, July 3, 2017

This Blog is Travelling to White Marsh

I had been wanting to write a post on White Marsh for the past 8 years. I had no idea how I wanted to angle it or word it or what about White Marsh I wanted to write about. All I had was this was rough draft title called "This Blog is Traveling to White Marsh" since November 5th, 2009. It was only recently that I traveled to White Marsh and "found the post." As an homage to how long this post was in the making, I'm going to keep the working title of; This Blog is Traveling to White Marsh.
In Northeastern Baltimore County just off I-95 is the fast growing community of White Marsh. Its boundaries are quite confusing since some of what people refer to as White Marsh could be Perry Hall, Nottingham, Middle River, or even Rossville. With that in mind, I'm going to define an area that I will definitively call "White Marsh" whose boundaries are I-95 to the east, White Marsh Boulevard to the north, and I-695 to the south and Belair Road to the west. These might not be everybody's boundaries but that's what I'm doing for the purpose of this post.
Within these boundaries are many high volume roads that go in and out of White Marsh; Rossville Boulevard, Perry Hall Boulevard, Honeygo Boulevard, and Campbell Boulevard. Also in this area is; White Marsh Mall, The Avenue at White Marsh, an IKEA, the site of Fullerton Reservoir, a Park & Ride Lot, a Retail Neighborhood Center with a Giant, an Office Park with Hotels, Residences of varying densities, and surprisingly, some undeveloped land.
A lot of these sections of White Marsh are very much their own. They're next to each other but they have no cohesive identity. The Retail and Commercial areas need to be united as a Town Center not only for White Marsh, but as a Retail/Office/Transit Hub for Northeast Baltimore County. Notice that I said Transit Hub. I do mean Rail Transit when I say that. In addition to the existing buses the park and ride lot serves, I would like to see the Green Line extended to White Marsh from Johns Hopkins through Morgan State, up Harford Road through Lauraville, Hamilton, and Parkville before arriving at White Marsh with its ultimate destination being Martin State Airport aligned with its MARC Station. The White Marsh Green Line Station will be located at the southwestern corner of the intersection of White Marsh Boulevard and Honeygo Boulevard.
In order to create true mixed use at White Marsh, the Mall Loop will be narrowed at its northeastern section between Sears and J.C. Penney. Since this lot is not usually full, it shouldn't be a problem. The Mall will have dedicated parking garages on either side of Boscov's. With the freed up part of the parking lot, there will be room to build Apartments in the 4-6 floor range between the Mall and IKEA and the park and ride lot that will become the Metro Station. Currently, Boscov's has an entrance directly across from Mercantile Road. Even with all this new development, there will be a lighted foot path leading from Boscov's to Mercantile Road.
Speaking of the Mall, many Malls are dying across the Country. So far White Marsh Mall has done pretty well considering all the Retail that has been built around it and that its anchors have been closing stores by the bushel. With that in mind, I would plan the Mall's future around that fact by shrinking the amount of square footage of some of the Department Stores in order to ensure their future profitability.  
J.C. Penney and Boscov's are the Anchors whose square footage will not change. At the moment, Macy's leases two floors in its primary space and one floor in another department store space as its home store. I would move the entire Macy's operation into the two floors of its primary space and have that space renovated. I would then move all of Sears into the space that was taken by Macy's Home. The second floor of the Macy's Home space was once taken up by Sports Authority which as a chain has gone bankrupt. Dave and Busters has leased that space and is slated to in 2018. Putting entertainment concept businesses into Malls has become a trend as bricks and mortar Retail has continued to suffer.
So after that Department Store switch around at the Mall, I have left the entire current Sears space empty. Don't worry, I did that on purpose so it could be demolished. As you know, Sears is closest part of the Mall to the Avenue at White Marsh. As Malls continue to fall by the wayside, the surviving bricks and mortar Retail has found a new home; Open Air Lifestyle Centers. The Avenue at White Marsh is exactly that. When taking a stroll down the Avenue, you can see that this style of Retail has become very successful. When looking at the Avenue and adjacent Mall, you can see that although they're adjacent to each other, they don't connect to each other.
That's where demolishing the Sears space comes into play. By demolishing it a true link between the Mall and the Avenue can be attained. By extending the Avenue and associated walkways in a T pattern from the straight from the Avenue and right up to the Mall's front door, the two can blend together and feed off each other and keep each other successful. Also by doing this, the Mall will gain more outdoor green space and will have the opportunity to lease space to businesses that may not have wanted to open in the enclosed Mall. In the long term, I think the entire Mall will become Open Air like the Avenue. However, given the relative success at the moment, I'm simply proposing tearing down Sears and building a connecting open Air Lifestyle Center between the Avenue and enclosed Mall will work in the short term.
Speaking of long term, just across I-95 from White Marsh, there's a plat of land awaiting development. The proposed development is a large Outlet Mall. Given its proximity to the White Marsh Mall, the Avenue at White Marsh, and two large Big Box Centers on Campbell Boulevard also east of I-95, I believe this will provide an over abundance of Retail in a time where bricks and mortar Retail is suffering. I would prefer that instead of building new Retail, existing Retail be reinvested in. Perhaps stores looking to open at the Outlet Mall could be enticed to open at the Lifestyle Center in between the Mall and the Avenue.
When converting the White Marsh area to a high density Mixed Use Town Center, I see one thing that is painfully missing; Walkability. The sprawling surface lots of the Mall are what divides the area from itself. That's why I'm, looking to get rid of half of it with parking garages and Residences but even that can't encourage walkability own its own. One White Marsh needs is Sidewalks, lots of them. When driving around Perry Hall Boulevard, Honeygo Boulevard, Campbell Boulevard, Mercantile Road, Corporate Drive, Town Centre Drive and the Mall Loop it's easy to see that this area wasn't built for walking. Sure it's not a far distance to walk from the Park and Ride lot to the Library but who would want to?
That's why I'm proposing rebuilding the entire Mall Loop and every street it intersects with as well as Perry Hall Boulevard with pedestrian friendly sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes, pedestrian signals, and crosswalk islands to make the entire area pedestrian friendly and walkable. The reason I'm adding Perry Hall Boulevard to the mix is because across the street from the Mall where there's still some undeveloped land, there is a proposal to build about 800 new homes about 600 of which are Apartments and Condos. Those new homes deserve to be properly linked to the Town Center on foot in addition to by Car.

As the White Marsh Area continues to grow, the need for a full fledged Town Center grows with it. Although none of the facets of the area can be a Town Center alone, the area must pull its assets together to reunite as one to make a thriving Town Center for generations to come. Hopefully it will be less than 8 years before this Blog Travels to White Marsh again.