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Brian
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There's definitely no denying that. On the flip side, with the majority of commuters being car goers, as these satellite business districts become more dispersed then vehicle traffic will be alleviated from the core as well. Hopefully to the point where the city as a whole continues to become even more dense and there will be no denying the fact that the metropolitan area can support and will be in need of more mass transit. I know to most of us this sounds counterintuitive, and in a perfect world infrastructure would be put in place simultaneously with these developments or perhaps TOD would be approached more diligently. But as you are probably also aware, it's the density that dictates a lot of these projects and not so much a build a rail line and they will come way of life.
Exactly!!! As Port Covington, Harbor East/Point, Canton, Towson, Columbia, and hopefully the rest of the city (specifically southeast and southwest) continues to become denser, they'll have no choice but to add transit.

Consider this, if these projects in Southwest Baltimore succeed in turning the area around and it becomes similar to Southeast Baltimore, there will be no denying an East-West line as being necessary.
 

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Feral
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Regarding the PC video, it sure is slick, but it brings a sense of foreboding: I don't know what proportion of the upper floors in all that new construction will be office space, but I can definitely see it vacuuming out more and more offices from downtown, just like Harbor East and Harbor Point continue to do. If the Penn Station development and Canton Crossing infill ever happen, that will only increase the pressure.
Speaking as someone who only occasionally finds himself in Baltimore, though, one of the ways Baltimore to me sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the Northeast's other big cities is the way its downtown feels like an office monoculture, where New York, Boston, Philly, and DC all have offices and residential all intermixed. To me, downtown Baltimore feels more like downtown Kansas City than anything else: pretty to look at, but a bit sepulchral if you don't work there.

So this trend of offices decanting from downtown Baltimore to growing inner-city commercial districts should help reorganize the city core from this old-school office monoculture to a more mixed-use one, especially if done in a Philadelphian manner (i.e. where obsolete office space regularly gets renovated into apartments or condos). Which in turn transitions Baltimore from a city that feels like its most happening districts are somehow separate from downtown to one where those districts feel like intimate extensions of downtown.
None of the emerging office nodes have as many transit options as the traditional downtown.
This, on the other hand, is a very fair critique, and the inability to properly integrate transportation planning into urban planning is a very American failure of the planning process. Part of the reason why Baltimore's bigger Northeast cousins (as well as Chicago and San Francisco) are able to support larger and more diversified downtown districts is because of these cities' more robust (mostly legacy) transport infrastructure.

IMO the solution really needs to begin with a revamp of the bus network, probably one following the Jarrett Walker-type principles every other major city in the US seems to use anymore. From there, a sensible plan for rail investments can follow.
 

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Feral
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Yes, unfortunately this is why the apartment conversions downtown - and there already have been a lot - have had such a laughably modest effect on street life. Even downtown residents have become accustomed to driving for ordinary needs, so downtown apartment conversions in turn come with massive structured or reserved parking. It's a very difficult cycle to break, unlike the legacy cities you cited where large downtown apartment buildings tend to date from the prewar era and have little or no dedicated parking.
I don't think the parking problem is the only problem in that context, though. New York, Boston, and Philadelphia all had significant legacy retail centers (Herald Square, Downtown Crossing, Market East) that never really went away; by contrast, the Lexington Market area -- which was Baltimore's main retail hub for much of the 20th century -- died wholesale in the early 1980s. In a way, Baltimore's problem here is one of a feedback loop: Baltimoreans living downtown don't shop downtown because there hasn't been retail options downtown, for as long as they've been there, and downtown's negative perception has been so strong that major retailers have generally been unwilling to set up shop there. Nor has there been any meaningful effort to brand downtown Baltimore as a shopping destination, the way that such an effort helped keep Center City retail relevant in the 1990s and 2000s.

The problem is far enough gone that downtown Baltimore reads as a retail desert. And the only real solution, I fear, likely requires a wholesale rebooting: enough people have to walk (or bike) to work and find car ownership for occasional use enough of an irritant to demand better retail in downtown Baltimore. Until then, most of Baltimore's major retail will likely continue to cluster in the large residential and office developments sprawling along the Inner Harbor down towards Fells Point, which is far enough away from, say, a condo in the old Hecht's building that driving or an Uber ride seems more reasonable than walking over there. And AFAIK the MTA remains spectacularly poor at attracting this kind of user to its system, too.

P.S. Just to let you know, your example of a "prewar residential building" was actually a hotel, the Latham, until just a few years ago. ;)
 

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Exactly!!! As Port Covington, Harbor East/Point, Canton, Towson, Columbia, and hopefully the rest of the city (specifically southeast and southwest) continues to become denser, they'll have no choice but to add transit.

Consider this, if these projects in Southwest Baltimore succeed in turning the area around and it becomes similar to Southeast Baltimore, there will be no denying an East-West line as being necessary.
My only concern with this approach is that the denser Baltimore becomes (and the increased traffic that comes along with it), the more expensive and time-consuming a real transit project will be. Then during the extended time we are waiting for a project to get studied, funded, and constructed, the traffic gets so much worse that businesses and residents end up moving elsewhere due to a lack of infrastructure. We're not a New York or a DC; there are plenty of other cities that businesses and residents could and would want to move to. We need to have an independent basis for people to stay if they are going to suffer through an extended period of not being able to get anywhere.

One of the benefits that could come from letting the density happen, I suppose, is that a larger population in the Baltimore area could attempt to exert more political influence in Annapolis, provided that it grows faster than the rest of the other portions of the state. At that point we'd be in a better position to stake claim to more infrastructure spending.
 

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Anyway, my argument isn't that we shouldn't be turning downtown into mixed-use. We absolutely should, but at the same time I think we should discourage office use from diluting elsewhere to the city. I think we should strive to keep what we already have and push even more different uses in to counterbalance: the office vacancy rate downtown is something like 20%+, so we have plenty of space to both try to keep office uses from fleeing, but at the same time continue adding more and more residential.

This way people could live and work side-by-side, instead of merely inverting the 20th century setup where people used to live outside and streetcar in to work, to a new situation in which the core is just another dormitory and people just reverse-commute drive out to work.

The relocation of State Center's workers to building(s) downtown is a good example of what I think we should be striving for alongside additional residential, because the hub-and-spoke transit to get huge loads of people downtown is already there and underused. It doesn't require building new lines to fringe office clusters.
I completely agree. But this is all just a matter of growing pains. The market and city leaders are slowly adjusting to trends. This may also be a reason why it appears some developers are dragging their feet. With all the shuffling of building uses comes great speculation. Let a few business continue to jump around and fill up prospective office space while the old office conversions settle in. There's no shortage of plots where new office towers can go up, and new is what business need more than residents.

To carry on this transition, I know a lot of folks here have said this too, it would be great to see the Inner Harbor and Pratt Street truly begin to cater to residents and workers alike over our seasonal tourists. And I like your idea of moving the farmers market down that way. I'm curious how they would manage there 7 days a week, though. The IH is far enough away from the UMB campus and Lexington Market that those pavilions could potentially support an equal endeavor for downtown's most immediate residents. The area is also condensed enough there that an increased police presence could keep petty crime down and perceived safety high. The two areas will eventually need to bridge Lombard to make it feel more complete and connected.
 

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My last comment got me thinking, I really hope that when 300 East Pratt gets built that it finds a better way to address Lombard street. Speaking of cycles that are hard to break, Lombard should stop being a 4 lane alleyway for the harbor. I also dont get the planning boards track record with sending developers back for revision after revision only to approve designs that completely ignore their surroundings. More on that later, but let's examine the intersection of South and Lombard, one of the better human scale access points from downtown to the harbor that should be focused on.



Here's one of the only modern examples on Lombard that should lead the idea. Nicely landscaped plaza out front. Repurposed and incorporated historic building out back that was once home to a nice cafe and could be again. And an overall, relatively handsome building as far as modern red brick goes (I know I harp on that quite a bit). It would be a disservice to this building and the opportunity it presents by throwing up a service door or blank wall for it to face.

Now onto the adjacent corner.



I've never walked through these doors, so I'm hoping someone here can shed some light on the layout of what's behind them. But looking at the two story tiled square sections that surround them, imagine beautiful glass to lighten up the weight of this wall. I wonder if that was their original purpose. If the Renaissance wants to live up to its name and further into this century, a facelift here would do wonders; housing something other than a UPS store.



On either end of this side of the cavern lies beautiful architecture. This space would be better utilized to open up the downtown/IH transition and could address both Lombard and Water streets.



The view down South Street at Redwood heading straight for the pavillion.



The view down Redwood at South Street heading further into downtown.

A few simple moves and smart decisions could make a whole lot of difference for the way these two areas communicate.

That's about all the ranting I have for now.

Cheers
 

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Baltimore becoming a much better, lively city in a quick fashion is really simple.

1. Huge, huge downturn in crime
2. Much better schools
3. Property tax rate slashed to rate below surrounding counties
4. Better mass transit
5. Great city leadership

There are obviously plenty of other things, but I think those five things would result in a ton more people, including families, staying in the city, and more people and families moving to the city, and hopefully buying instead of renting. I know so many people who moved out of the city or didn't move to the city because of A) Crime B) Schools C) Could not afford to live there.

These changes would hopefully increase the tax base and eventually allow for a lot of other important, but smaller, things to be addressed like repaving of all the roads, a clean harbor, etc.
 

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Baltimore becoming a much better, lively city in a quick fashion is really simple.

1. Huge, huge downturn in crime
2. Much better schools
3. Property tax rate slashed to rate below surrounding counties
4. Better mass transit
5. Great city leadership

There are obviously plenty of other things, but I think those five things would result in a ton more people, including families, staying in the city, and more people and families moving to the city, and hopefully buying instead of renting. I know so many people who moved out of the city or didn't move to the city because of A) Crime B) Schools C) Could not afford to live there.

These changes would hopefully increase the tax base and eventually allow for a lot of other important, but smaller, things to be addressed like repaving of all the roads, a clean harbor, etc.
I would argue that all 5 of those things would be EFFECTS of a more robust white-collar economy. That's why projects like Cyber Town at PC are super important. We need to accelerate the growth of high-paying jobs, so more high-income individuals live and work in the city. Do that and the rest will mostly take care of itself. That said, we're kind of on that track already. So something like a huge property tax cut or a sharp decrease in crime (by some miracle), might be a major shot in the arm to accelerate the positive economic momentum.
 

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Brian
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I really wish there was a feasible way to rebuild the arena at its current site. I think the location is perfect and it could help spur even more development on that side of downtown.

Though very doubtful, if Baltimore had a third professional team (NBA or NHL, most likely NBA over NHL), that would be huge. Even if we were able to get the Blast to move back, and have a minor league hockey team or D League basketball team it would be a boost. I went to a Caps game a few months ago and every restaurant within a 3 block radius was full of Caps fans and there are a ton of restaurants in Chinatown. That sort of help from a sports team can keep restaurants afloat.

Another benefit of a new arena even without another sports team is the events and tourism that come with it. Hosting NCAA tournament rounds, NCAA Conference tournaments, and even regular season NCAA tournaments draw large crowds from outside the area. Crowds that are staying in hotels, eating at restaurants, and experiencing the city when they may not have come here otherwise.
 

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BBJ contributor: disperse state offices through downtown and auction off lots in State Center for cultural and other uses.

Viewpoint: Goodbye State Center, hello Cultural Center?
https://www.bizjournals.com/baltimore/news/2020/01/17/viewpointgoodbye-state-center-hello-cultural.html

Two cheers for Gov. Larry Hogan, whose recently announced plan to have several government agencies vacate Baltimore’s State Center complex solves a pair of devilish problems in the city. ...

By pulling the plug on the fabulously expensive and doomed-to-fail State Center redevelopment project, Hogan has avoided putting a sizable new burden on state taxpayers and greatly increased the chances that state employees will get to enjoy a working environment that is less, well, Soviet-style.

To call the previous plan to raze and rebuild a state office complex on the 28-acre site a boondoggle would be an understatement. That plan was born in the administration of Gov. Robert Ehrlich and embraced by his successor, former Mayor and then-Governor Martin O’Malley. Since normal, competitive bidding procedures were not followed, the $1.5 billion project soon became embroiled in controversy and litigation.

For taxpayers, the key problem was the state’s promise to pay developers rents well above market rate as a way of securing private investment. In 2012, the Maryland Public Policy Institute estimated the extravagant rents and other subsidies amounted to a $127 million handout to the developers. Perhaps such huge subsidies were aimed at offsetting the city’s non-competitive property tax rate, but in this “Healthy Holly” era, taxpayers might also wonder whether they were simply a payoff to the politically connected.

And apart from its cost, the plan itself was ill-conceived. While it nodded in the direction of mixed-use development, concentrating 3,300 state workers and multiple agencies in a few buildings is a horrible idea. That’s too many people arriving, lunching and leaving on the same schedule; it drives out diversity and creates a commercial vacuum at most times of the day and night. As the current configuration proves, that is not an economic engine for a neighborhood. Fixing a little retail and residential on the edges wouldn’t change that.

...

The dispersal of state workers downtown... should not be a temporary situation. Ideally, the current State Center tracts would be auctioned off, with the marketplace and creative entrepreneurs — rather than political insiders — determining their highest-valued use and users. The site’s proximity to valuable cultural attractions, educational institutions and transit nodes could make it a hot ticket. One can envision a vibrant cultural center growing on the site rather than a sterile office complex.

...

Stephen J.K. Walters is the author of "Boom Towns: Restoring the Urban American Dream" and chief economist at the Maryland Public Policy Institute. Email him at [email protected].
 

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Discussion Starter #52,472
...

Contrarily, the city touted the relocation of Social Security's Metro West workers to Reisterstown Plaza as a "win," but I see it as a loss: hundreds of people that once could take scores of rail or bus routes to a central point now have to make their way to a single fringe point on a single metro line. Lexington Market lost hundreds of lunchtime patrons, as did scores of westside small businesses.
This is a great example of how our understanding of green buildings is incomplete. GSA has made a show of its efforts to relocate federal offices to green buildings, but in many cases, this has meant moving offices out of downtowns to new buildings, often on newly constructed transit lines. This happened in Denver and KC, and also here with the SSA offices formerly in Metro West.

The new Wabash office near Reisterstown Plaza is LEED certified and easily accessible by Metro (I'll admit that the new times that I've had to go out there, it takes me less than 20 minutes door-to-door from Mt. Vernon, which is amazing), but as Marc says, it's less accessible to most other parts of the region. And therefore, more people are driving in.

I experienced the same thing when I worked in the Attorney General's office at MDOT. MDOT moved to Hanover in 2006. The building is LEED-certified and connected to the BWI Amtrak/MARC station by a boardwalk. I may have told this story before, but before the start of my summer clerkship, I asked my boss-to-be if the building was accessible by MARC train. He told me that it would be, but it wasn't yet because they were still negotiating with Amtrak to open up the boardwalk connecting the station to the building. He was leading those negotiations. I decided that I was going to take the train anyway and figure out how to make it work. MDOT learned that Amtrak had opened up the boardwalk when I walked across it on the first day of my clerkship. It had been open for some time, but no MDOT employees took the train, so they didn't know.
 

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In your opinion, what has been more successful at development in Baltimore:

A - Big projects marketed as "iconic" with ribbon cuttings and press releases etc.
B - Continuous pipeline of small projects/rowhouse renovations

The more I think about it, I am in the B camp because all these big apartment conversions and other flashy projects don't seem to be living up to their expectations as far as building foot traffic and supporting businesses. What does seem to be consistently working are efforts in places like Patterson Park where there are blocks and blocks of unbroken rowhomes gradually being renovated and converted. These blocks are crossing into other areas north of the Park and pushing east as well.
 

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Discussion Starter #52,475
I am mostly in camp B, but I will say that Harbor East is all large, new construction and it is every bit as vibrant as just about any neighborhood in the city, so we do have examples where large, top-down developments do meet expectations. But Harbor East is just a better urban experience than most of the CBD; it has narrower streets, more building entrances, and fewer blank walls.

It would be interesting to sit outside, say, 414 Light Street and Liberty HE and compare how many people walk in and out the front door in a given day versus how may cars drive out of the garage.
 

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BBJ contributor: disperse state offices through downtown and auction off lots in State Center for cultural and other uses.

Viewpoint: Goodbye State Center, hello Cultural Center?
https://www.bizjournals.com/baltimore/news/2020/01/17/viewpointgoodbye-state-center-hello-cultural.html

Two cheers for Gov. Larry Hogan, whose recently announced plan to have several government agencies vacate Baltimore’s State Center complex solves a pair of devilish problems in the city. ...

By pulling the plug on the fabulously expensive and doomed-to-fail State Center redevelopment project, Hogan has avoided putting a sizable new burden on state taxpayers and greatly increased the chances that state employees will get to enjoy a working environment that is less, well, Soviet-style.

To call the previous plan to raze and rebuild a state office complex on the 28-acre site a boondoggle would be an understatement. That plan was born in the administration of Gov. Robert Ehrlich and embraced by his successor, former Mayor and then-Governor Martin O’Malley. Since normal, competitive bidding procedures were not followed, the $1.5 billion project soon became embroiled in controversy and litigation.

For taxpayers, the key problem was the state’s promise to pay developers rents well above market rate as a way of securing private investment. In 2012, the Maryland Public Policy Institute estimated the extravagant rents and other subsidies amounted to a $127 million handout to the developers. Perhaps such huge subsidies were aimed at offsetting the city’s non-competitive property tax rate, but in this “Healthy Holly” era, taxpayers might also wonder whether they were simply a payoff to the politically connected.

And apart from its cost, the plan itself was ill-conceived. While it nodded in the direction of mixed-use development, concentrating 3,300 state workers and multiple agencies in a few buildings is a horrible idea. That’s too many people arriving, lunching and leaving on the same schedule; it drives out diversity and creates a commercial vacuum at most times of the day and night. As the current configuration proves, that is not an economic engine for a neighborhood. Fixing a little retail and residential on the edges wouldn’t change that.

...

The dispersal of state workers downtown... should not be a temporary situation. Ideally, the current State Center tracts would be auctioned off, with the marketplace and creative entrepreneurs — rather than political insiders — determining their highest-valued use and users. The site’s proximity to valuable cultural attractions, educational institutions and transit nodes could make it a hot ticket. One can envision a vibrant cultural center growing on the site rather than a sterile office complex.

...

Stephen J.K. Walters is the author of "Boom Towns: Restoring the Urban American Dream" and chief economist at the Maryland Public Policy Institute. Email him at [email protected].


Speaking as a neighbor to this complex, most of the folks around here don't care who the developer is, or even if the State stays as the main tenant, as long as quality retail, quality housing, and intelligent use of the space is the final result. The Armory conversion to a grocery store is the #1 priority of most of the people I know. The rest is just detail.
 

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I really wish there was a feasible way to rebuild the arena at its current site. I think the location is perfect and it could help spur even more development on that side of downtown.

Though very doubtful, if Baltimore had a third professional team (NBA or NHL, most likely NBA over NHL), that would be huge. Even if we were able to get the Blast to move back, and have a minor league hockey team or D League basketball team it would be a boost. I went to a Caps game a few months ago and every restaurant within a 3 block radius was full of Caps fans and there are a ton of restaurants in Chinatown. That sort of help from a sports team can keep restaurants afloat. ...

Would love to see a new arena as well. But it would probably fare better on Piers 5 & 6.

For better or worse, there will never be as many restaurants and bars near the current arena site as are already in place in Harbor East, Power Plant Live, and Harborplace.

Add a pedestrian bridge over the harbor and SoBo's attractions become a richer part of the mix.

Current arena site should have supertall.
 

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I am mostly in camp B, but I will say that Harbor East is all large, new construction and it is every bit as vibrant as just about any neighborhood in the city, so we do have examples where large, top-down developments do meet expectations. But Harbor East is just a better urban experience than most of the CBD; it has narrower streets, more building entrances, and fewer blank walls.

It would be interesting to sit outside, say, 414 Light Street and Liberty HE and compare how many people walk in and out the front door in a given day versus how may cars drive out of the garage.


I would agree that Harbor East has exceeded expectations. I wonder how much of that is due to very intentional development directly at the water, as well as the hotel folks who mostly park their cars in the garage and may be willing to walk. Take away the water aspect and I'm not sure it would be as big of a hit.


I would submit that the Southeast CDC and Friends of Patterson Park have done more for development in the city than the Peterakis family when considering the big picture.
 

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In your opinion, what has been more successful at development in Baltimore:

A - Big projects marketed as "iconic" with ribbon cuttings and press releases etc.
B - Continuous pipeline of small projects/rowhouse renovations

The more I think about it, I am in the B camp because all these big apartment conversions and other flashy projects don't seem to be living up to their expectations as far as building foot traffic and supporting businesses. What does seem to be consistently working are efforts in places like Patterson Park where there are blocks and blocks of unbroken rowhomes gradually being renovated and converted. These blocks are crossing into other areas north of the Park and pushing east as well.
Group B projects have been more successful in Baltimore (at least for the last 10 years), but they haven't done much to change the perception of the City. However, I would say that something like lowering our property tax rate would go a long way to promote more Group B projects.

IMO Group A will be more critical going forward, because the large iconic projects tend to be the ones that create jobs and change perceptions. If we want to be "DC-light", at least economically, we'll need some Group A projects to get there. So something like the pedestrian bridge, a new arena, or new convention center, would be the type of project that would be great economically and would encourage visitors, thereby changing perception.
 

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Another benefit of a new arena even without another sports team is the events and tourism that come with it. Hosting NCAA tournament rounds, NCAA Conference tournaments, and even regular season NCAA tournaments draw large crowds from outside the area. Crowds that are staying in hotels, eating at restaurants, and experiencing the city when they may not have come here otherwise.

I’m personally looking forward to 2021 when the CIAA conference basketball tournament relocates to Baltimore for 3 years. The event in Charlotte brings out 100,000 visitors to attend, and comparative economic impact as Power 5 conference tournaments...Not bad for a Division II tournament. This influx of tourists during an otherwise slow end of February will be great for the economy.

Similarly, I’d love to see the MEAC (conference of Morgan and Coppin St) make the switch back to Baltimore for the first time since ‘95.

One last comment, UMD, Towson, UMBC, and Loyola should all play at least one game a year at the Baltimore Arena. Early season tournament perhaps??
 
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