Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Intra-city sprawl: Baltimore edition

First image: current headquarters, Constellation Energy, 750 E. Pratt Street. Source unknown. Second image: future site of Constellation Energy on the Baltimore Harbor Waterfront. Photo: Nicholas Griner, Baltimore Business Journal.

I write about intra-city sprawl that I see happen in DC from time to time. Generally, it's of two varieties: (1) DC Government relocating its agencies from the central business district to locations spread out across the city (usually for purported economic development reasons) but in places where transit service is less efficient or not available, compared to the places the agencies or leave; or (2) greenfield-grayfield redevelopment, with significantly different development that may generate significant numbers of trips, without adequately investing in transit expansion in advance.

Baltimore has a different problem. It has so much excess property--so many beautiful buildings--in its central business district that it's downright tragic. Although many of the buildings are no longer Class A buildings, but the real problem is demand. Baltimore just doesn't have as many Fortune 500 and regional headquarters anymore, or the businesses that remain moved out to the suburbs (e.g., McCormick Spice Company).

But real estate interests like Edwin Hale, formerly of the First Mariner Bank, who developed new buildings in the Canton area, and John Paterakis, owner of H&S Bakeries, a regional baking company behemoth (e.g., they do all the baking for Giant Supermarkets) with lots of property in the area between the Inner Harbor and Fells Point, have been developing new properties, and this puts further pressure on "Downtown" because the new projects end up being more like a game of musical chairs, with Downtown being the loser.

This is further complicated by companies that want trophy buildings, such as Exelon, which is acquiring Constellation Energy, and will still have a large presence in Baltimore after the merger. See "Exelon's move to Harbor Point to reshape downtown Baltimore" from the Baltimore Business Journal and "Exelon picks Harbor Point for future headquarters: Project led by bakery magnate, developer John Paterakis Sr." and the editorial "Stretching Downtown" from the Baltimore Sun.

They are going to build in the "Harbor Point" area, the area between the Inner Harbor and Fells Point, to a building being constructed by Paterakis' Harbor East Development Group LLC. It will be built on the site of the old Allied Chemical Plant. And this will release 350,000 s.f. of office space Downtown and lead to a significant amount of vacant property, making "revitalization" just a little more difficult.

Of course, offering incentives to companies to move from one in-city site to another is probably a mistake.

From the BBJ article:

The decision will remove 2,000 Constellation (NYSE: CEG) workers from Baltimore’s traditional downtown and empty about 350,000 square feet of office space at 750 E. Pratt St. and 111 Market Place.

“It’s just disappointing,” said Terri Harrington, a vice president for Mackenzie Commercial Real Estate Services, which represents 1.5 million square feet of space in the city’s so-called commercial business district. “This additional square footage that’s going to be added to the market is just going to be really tough for landlords north of Pratt Street to absorb.” ...

Not only is Exelon moving into a trendy waterfront development, but the company also will benefit from a state enterprise zone in which companies get an 80 percent property tax reduction for five years, as well as declining tax breaks for five more years. The enterprise zone also includes a $1,000 credit per new employee.

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