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.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Baltimore's Harborplace in bankruptcy and what that says about certain development trends in urban revitalization

The Light Street pavilion at Harborplace, the view from next to the USS Constellation. Zach Phillips, Baltimore Business Journal..

The Baltimore Sun and Baltimore Business Journal ("Harborplace put into receivership, opening door for new ownership") are reporting that Baltimore's Harborplace development is in bankruptcy.

Baltimore's Harborplace, a set of retail buildings on the waterfront of the city's Inner Harbor, was the first example of what was then called a festival marketplace, a conglomeration of retail and restaurants aiming to draw visitors--in-area and people outside of the area ("tourists")--to the "inner city" and the waterfront.

It was done by pioneering developer James Rouse, whose development company has since gone through a couple acquisitions, although Harborplace hasn't been controlled by a Rouse-successor firm for many years.

The property owner is in the process of "returning the keys to the mortgage holder," which is a form of bankruptcy for the property.  It's cheaper for the developer and the bank to take over the property in this manner rather than to go through a bunch of litigation.

Baltimore's problem is that Harborplace has needed refreshing for a long time, the current owner, Ashkenasy Acquisitions (which also has the leasehold for Washington's Union Station retail section) isn't well placed to do quality and innovative redevelopment.

This is further complicated by the post-Freddie Brown period of unrest in the city which has seriously impacted visitor numbers, combined with a Republican-led state government, many other pressing redevelopment needs within the city that aren't on the waterfront such as Park Heights, and a focus elsewhere in the city by other developers.

WRT how extending the waterfront makes Harborplace less competitive, there has been competitive waterfront development in "Harbor East" and Canton, where the cruise terminal is, and  the owner of Under Armour, Scott Plank, is heavily invested in redeveloping a different section of the city's formerly industrial waterfront ("The Port Covington Redevelopment Project Examined," Baltimore Sun) has contributed to the property's failure.

-- "Cordish: 'Courageous' city leadership needed to help fix Harborplace," BBJ
-- "'I would love to see it replaced': Mayor Young weighs in on Harborplace," BBJ

What's happened with Harborplace is important for at least three reasons.

1.  It was the first example of the "festival marketplace," and the concept has been employed elsewhere in the US as an approach to spark revitalization, including the prominent examples of Faneuil Hall in Boston and South Street Seaport in New York City.

Illustration from a c. 1983 New York Times article on the South Street Seaport.

Although the attempt in NYC was never very successful, probably because it was too ersatz and the city already has so many other destinations and attractions to offer.

Other developers, such as the redevelopment program of the Ferry Building in San Francisco, used the same model.

-- "Formula for "Festival Marketplaces"," Washington Post, 1986

2.  It was one of the earliest examples of adaptive reuse of maritime and industrially used spaces on a waterfront employing a real estate development strategy focused on attracting visitors to buildings redeveloped with restaurants, retail, and attractions, often with a maritime focus including ships, museums, etc.

The Inner Harbor development sparked similar ventures world-wide ("On the Revitalized Waterfront: Creative Milieu for Creative Tourism," Sustainability Journal, 2013).  For example, in Liverpool and to some extent, Hamburg.

3.  More recently, Ashkenasy Acquisition, a real estate development firm, has specialized in owning these types of properities in NYC, DC, Boston, and Baltimore.  But they take a non-unique approach, often replacing locally owned businesses with chains.

Waterfront redevelopment projects continue apace. Cities large and small ("Rust Belt Cities Turn to Riverfront Development for Economic Boost) ," US News & World Report) continue to pursue retail-led redevelopment of waterfront properties.

DC has two such developments, The Wharf in Southwest and Navy Yard in Southeast.

Chicago RiverwalkThe Chicago River has a wide variety of development initiatives alongside, including various placemaking projects initiated by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Some communities have done revitalization initiatives along rivers and canals that aren't traditionally navigable, such as the Bricktown Canal in Oklahoma City and San Antonio's Riverwalk.

Problems with the "product type. But as the Baltimore example proves, this product type has issues.

Tension between developer-led initiatives and public planning.  Developer-led programs can be overly real estate focused, like Harborplace, which is restaurants and tourist-oriented retail, complemented by some separately run visitor attractions elsewhere on the waterfront.

Public planning initiatives can do a better job of integrating a variety of uses, including some maritime uses like docks, piers, and marinas, and cultural uses such as museums like the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool or other uses, such as the Elbphilharmonie concert hall in HafenCity Hamburg or the Villa Méditerranée exhibition hall in Marseille ("Marseille's £6bn Capital of Culture rebirth," Guardian).

Maintaining maritime uses.  Rarely, some communities, such as Portland, Maine, which still has a "working waterfront," with seafood-related businesses "working the waters" aim to keep a maritime focus ("Fishermen launch campaign to protect Portland's working waterfront," Portland Press-Herald).

In Hoboken, New Jersey, there is tension between the city, which wants to redevelop an active industrial site, and the maritime business that is based there ("Hoboken Nonprofit, Ferry Company Clash On Dry Dock," Patch).

Constant refreshment may be required.  One of the problems with retail-oriented waterfront revitalization is that it tends to be highly touristified with ersatz experiences that aren't super authentic, so after awhile local residents stop visiting and then somewhat later, the experience becomes tired and may require frequent refreshment.

For example, at Harborplace, over time local businesses tended to be replaced with national chains and establishments like California Pizza Kitchen don't provide much in the way of unique experiences.

-- "Waterfront revitalization: The Wharf in DC and Baltimore's Harborplace," 2016
-- "Rebooting the Festival Marketplace," Design Observer, 2008

A related lesson is that the mix of retail and attractions with a focus on maintaining relevant local identity and experience needs to be constantly planned for and adjusted.

Maintaining maritime attractions is expensive.  Another problem is the cost of maintaining maritime-related attractions, specifically, "ships" ("D-Day draws attention to WWII ships veterans aim to save," USA Today); "Baltimore’s WWII-era Liberty ship could be homeless soon," Associated Press).

John Brown Liberty Ship.

From the latter article:
The John W. Brown, named for an American labor-union leader, was built in 41 days and launched from Baltimore’s Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard on Sept. 7, 1942 — one of 384 Liberty ships built here. After making 13 trips during the war, it was loaned in 1946 to New York City. There, it served as a maritime high school until 1982.

After floating dormant in New York and, later, Norfolk, the ship found a home, and the people to care for it, in Baltimore. It arrived here in August 1988 and following extensive renovations, almost all accomplished with volunteer labor, was back to sailing under its own power in August 1991.

The ship moved last week from Canton’s Pier 1, where it had been berthed for much of the past 30 years, to the nearby Pier C. Pier C is currently a secured pier, meaning public access is limited. John Brown officials say they are working with Rukert to ensure the public can continue visiting the ship regularly.

For most of its years here, the John W. Brown has offered trips down the Chesapeake, usually to the bay bridge and back — 110 such cruises since 1991. Staffed with actual crew as well as actors portraying military personnel and others — the Andrews Sisters, comedians Abbott and Costello, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Gen. Douglas MacArthur — the hours-long journeys do their best to evoke the war years.
Most communities lack the financial resources necessary to keep ships in good working order, which because they are in water, need constant maintenance and occasional full overhauls in drydock, the latter being complicated by the fact that there are few such facilities remaining in the US that can do the work.

(In DC, such ships used to be berthed at the Navy Yard, but the cost of doing so, and reconstruction of the South Capitol Bridge isn't designed to accommodate sea-going ships, led the US Navy to cease doing so.)

Cruise terminal in HafenCity, Hamburg.

Catering to cruise ships.  While some cities like Venice have "too many tourists" and are especially overrun by day trippers from cruise ships, cities less popular as tourist destinations, such as Liverpool and Hamburg, have developed cruise terminals on their downtown-adjacent waterfronts, and this helps bring in visitors.

By contrast, in Baltimore, the cruise terminal is in Canton.  While there are probably navigation issues, having a cruise ship terminal in the Inner Harbor could have added additional vitality to the waterfront.

The River Spirit Hotel and Casino is surrounded by flood waters from the Arkansas River on Friday in Tulsa, Okla. Tom Gilbert | Tulsa World.

Climate change/flooding.  Superstorm Sandy wiped out waterfront developments in New York City and New Jersey, including the South Street Seaport.

Today, unprecedented flooding in the Midwest and the South impacts waterfront development in a slew of cities including Tulsa, Oklahoma and Davenport, Iowa--the latter city had previously been heralded for creating a waterfront that would accommodate floods, but today's floods have overwhelmed it.

Tulsa has been a pioneer in watershed and flood management, after flood in 1984 resulted in 14 deaths ("From Roof Top to River: Tulsa's Approach to Floodplain and Stormwater Management," Tulsa Partners). That city has a pioneering Citywide Flood and Stormwater Management Plan.

Need for good advocacy groups.  Not only are there issues about fishable-swimmable, but about development and management.  While the latter can be criticized as being real estate focused, Baltimore's Waterfront Partnership functions as a business improvement district for part of the waterfront and they seem to be doing interesting work.

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At 8:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Middle school trip circa 1982 (?). Visited again a few times in the 80's and 90's. Last visit was 2000's perhaps. Signs of decline even then, but the setting was still nice. Baltimore has always been a hot mess during my lifetime. I don't see that changing.

At 1:27 PM, Anonymous Richard L Layman said...

Back in the day, with Detroit it was "Greektown" and the creation of what I would now term a food hall which was a destination for awhile, til people moved on to the next thing.

(The first food court I ever experienced was in the mid-1970s, called Tally Hall, at a shopping center in Oakland County, Michigan. Likely it wasn't the first. It was nothing like the chain-riven mall food courts that it begat. But after a few years people stopped going, same kind of thing.)

At 8:55 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

On climate change:

I'd mostly read this a a tired real estate concept from the 1980s no longer being popular -- and a management company that is trying to extract rent rather than tear the place down.

At 11:32 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

off topic:

related to you many points about having a plan, and also mine (lack of a planning infrastructure makes cities of under 250,000 very viable but bigger than that it collapses).

Larger issue he touches is the politics of why we don't trust planners.

At 6:50 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Will read. Why we don't trust planners? Because usually the scope of what needs to be done is "constrained" in the planning process. There aren't "transformational approaches". Many agencies (at least in the DC area) don't seem to be focused on "baking into the process" best practices as SOP and continuous process improvement.

And to be fair, there are political constraints imposed that change everything.

Plus the car dominates regardless.

Anyway, I sometimes wonder if I helped get the planning director fired in Baltimore County once a new County Executive was elected, because I got him motivated to ask to take back transportation planning responsibilities from the DPW.

Anyway, that time was the peak of the recession, and the County Administrator (really the most important government official as he ran the budget process and had for decades) ordered the Master Plan Update Team to eliminate every recommendation in the plan that called for spending money.

It's hard to say if any of my transit recommendations to that team would have made it in the final plan in any case. But they all cost money.

Plus, a lot of planners aren't very good at the process. Lots of different points I could make.

And then of course, $.

A good example is my series on the Purple Line. Brilliant stuff. If implemented would make the PL more successful and the overall transit network more successful and better simultaneously.

Won't ever happen.

Our planning processes are too balkanized for that to ever happen.

At 6:58 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I like your point about 250,000. I'd say it's easier too. ANd in some communities like Greensboro, NC, they illustrate my line about "desperate willingness to experiment because they have no other choice." But they also have a lot of (what you talk about from time to time) civic identity and involvement, area specific foundations, social, community, and political and organizational capital focused on improving the area.

Separately, Richard Florida says that when a metro reaches 6 million people automobile-based mobility systems bollix up. That's another point. And you absolutely need innovative master planning then. But there are so many jurisdictions.

Lots of stuff in the current issue of Governing Magazine that may motivate me to write. There was a piece about transit in legacy cities vs. what Peter Muller would call "metropolitan cities" and how in the latter, there is a transit backlash these days, e.g., neither Nashville nor Gwinnett County voted in favor of referenda (with the latter it was because Republicans didn't want the referendum to run in the Nov. election because it would help draw out Democratic voters, but in turn, wouldn't draw enough supporters in a March election) and how Phoenix voted to cut back on transit expansion, which was a shocker.

But in metropolitan cities (Phoenix, Houston, Charlotte, Denver, etc.) it's really hard to make new transit systems work in terms of volume. You need concentration and density which is apposite to what those places are. The Phoenix system has been popular. It has 50,000 daily riders. That's out of millions of trips/day overall...

At 7:01 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

another piece in Governing is about small city capacity for innovation in the context of a larger area, using the mayor of West Sacramento as an example. Or Buttiegeg (did he really do all that much).

But there is your point about Sanders and Burlington, Vermont. Mayor Riley and Charleston (but on the core, Riley ended up promoting sprawl through annexation because they didn't promote urban urban design in the new areas). Jim Brainerd and Carmel, Indiana. Greenville, SC (a great example of planning by the way).

At 7:07 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

WRT your point about old product. I think we're talking about the same thing in different ways. It requires constant refreshment. WRT this, Edens really shocked me in that they were a traditional shopping center firm that bought a chunk of Union Market. I figured they would treat UM the same way as their other stuff. (E.g. think of the "Costco" shopping center at the edge of DC--Peterson Companies--PC can do more interesting stuff, but it is still very chain oriented even if in a non shopping center setting.) But then they "acquired" the talent to deal with UM on its own terms, not as a traditional shopping center. And then they let that approach infuse the company, to the point where they have other developments with similar attributes, and have moved the corporate headquarters here, from the Carolinas.

Ashkenasy doesn't seem to have the capacity for innovation. Didn't realize that it was a static product that needed innovation and constant refreshment in order to remain relevant in the context of other developers constantly working to keep their properties popular. With new stuff opening up as well.

Peterson is somewhere between the two. Downtown Silver Spring or National Harbor are better than a shopping center, but more like a shopping center than a "traditional commercial district."

At 11:29 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

RE: Old product.

Many times that is just one person at a development firm who sees an opportunity. For example, one guy at JGB pushed for the urban design of the Shay/Atlantic plumbing/Louis with high quality retail (and low rents). He left, JBG has zero interest in continuing down that path.

RE: planning; well there is a reason why we have some many little cities in a metro area of 6 million and the base issue is trust/separation of powers. You may not like Robert Moses but there is reason why it is considered a foundational case study of power.

What is different is that cities aren't using the power of transit to FORCE suburbs to hell -- as they did in NYC in 1898, or in California with Water.

But Levy's piece is very good, although he doesn't understand the US context at all. But this is where we have to look at ourselves and realize that our metro-area is a broken concept.

At 12:01 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

hmm. That's a post where a typo: hell vs. heel; makes a big difference.

Yes. 100%. A couple of other examples, Philadelphia in something like 1854 (ironically around when Baltimore City and County split) and San Francisco.

The funny thing about this is that it is 6 of one, half dozen of the other. There are a bunch of city-county mergers. St. Louis is up for a vote, I just haven't written about it yet.

Generally, I favor consolidation. But there are plenty of examples where it doesn't work so well, like Toronto, or where the boroughs still have so much power it doesn't work as well, like London.

Plus there is how the comparatively conservative suburbs (even if more comparatively liberal compared to outer suburbs and rural areas) can overweight the inner core progressives. That's an issue in Toronto definitely, and to London somewhat.

And then there is the f*ed up nature of the state/province to city relationship. Doug Ford is a f*ing bomb in Ontario vis a vis the cities, especially Toronto. But he's hardly the only one.

But I am sure out-province people don't care as much (although I saw a survey of Ontario residents that said they are less likely to vote for Conservatives in the national election because of Doug Ford), in fact like "sticking it to those people in the city who think they're so great" a la how out-state New Yorkers often feel about New York City.

But yes, I am always amazed at how far thinking people were in the 1850s-1880s were in buying up water rights. Not just California which was a bit later. New York City, Baltimore, Detroit, although NYC doesn't have the same regional water system beyond city limits that they do in Greater Detroit or Baltimore.

(And then yes, Moses in the 1920s-1950s on parks and freeways. Too bad he was so anti-transit. He might have been the only person able to pull off a VV incorporating NJ and maybe even CT then.)

WRT the metro area as a broken concept, there are a couple outliers. In Portland you have the Metro Council and it acts on some metro issues, like land use. They are elected. In Minneapolis the Metro Council is the MPO, runs the transit agency, some parks I think, but also the stormwater authority. I don't think they are elected in the same way as in Portland.

And then you have a bunch of states, like California and Arizona and Maryland, where the county is the dominant authority, and does a lot. Well, with California I am also thinking about those joint powers authorities in transit which may function across counties. But in Orange and LA Counties, e.g., in Orange there is one real transit agency (although the cities tend to do complementary shuttle type services, often with OCTA funding) and in LA there are multiple agencies, but LAMTA is the primary and leading agency.

Anyway, back to the brokenness. And it really doesn't work too well when multiple state jurisdictions are crossed. DC area primary example. Not so great in New York City. I think it works a bit better in Philadelphia, at least there the MPO does some interesting work bridging the two states in planning terms. Chicagoland, the Indiana part doesn't matter so much. In other places like Portland or Fargo-Moorhead, or St. Louis/East St. Louis, the major city remains the shot caller.

Not sure about KC-KC. The funny thing is that KC-KC is 14 counties, but smaller by 1000 miles and half the population of Maricopa County, Arizona.

At 12:12 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

with JBG, I think it actually was a lady. I heard her speak at a presentation at Georgetown's downtown building. When she spoke, she had already left the company. But she was older, not young.

But I'd say that they still did that other building on the U Street corridor that's pretty damn good, and I know their Twinbrook stuff is as urban as it might be able to be given its location. But now, with the company focused differently, it's hard to say.

But yes, another example of what Edens has done as being so revolutionary.

cf. too, Federal Realty. They are better than most. Better than Peterson Companies definitely. But Bethesda Row is a lot different than their other comparable examples, of which they built using Bethesda Row as an example. There it was built in many phases. The other projects are pretty much one or two phases and they all look the same, are pretty much the same in terms of building stock. And they are chain oriented, except for the restaurants.

But back to JBG, it's really really tough I think for developers to deal with non-standard retail tenants, accept less rent compared to a chain, work with independents, etc., even in the best of situations.

I know a businessowner recruited to the Navy Yard, and the store isn't really working $wise. The thing is that the owner isn't a systems thinker, and I think the store could be made successful, with a lot of attention and tinkering to better fit what's offered to the demographics and what we might call "flow and mien" of the customer base at her first store, but that might be out of her interest and skill set even though she is quite able.

(And the Lou Lou chain has figured out how to set up and work their stores in different contexts. For me the basic idea is create a set of "formats," one for inner city neighborhoods on major transit routes featuring lots of pedestrian traffic, another for regional touristy destinations, and another for higher income suburbs where most people will arrive by car--on the latter that means you treat Clarendon differently from Bethesda.)

But at the same time, the developer needs to reset their expectations about what are maximum rents permanently, and that if they want some retail and not just all restaurants, they have to do things differently, and now that Brookfield owns it because they bought Forest City, I don't know if they have the interest and desire to do that, because in the context of their very large and multi country portfolio, it's a distraction. Then again, it's run by the area division, and maybe they have a lot of leeway division by division.

At 2:04 PM, Anonymous Bankruptcy said...

I favor consolidation


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