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.  

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