Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Held together by TIFs and Bonds

Yesterday La Cite, since 2006 in the possession of a land disposition agreement, a stealth developer without a public record and a contentious past relationship with the City (La Cite and Housing threatened to sue each other) inched another step forward with his ambitious Poppleton project. The ten year history can be summarized like this: Many times promised, never delivered.
The Sun writes today:

"Plans have been in the works for nearly a decade, since La Cite won rights from the city in 2005. New Jersey-based Diversified Realty Advisors LLC is also a member of the development team, charged with remaking about 12 blocks, roughly bordered by Mulberry Street and Fairmount Avenue to the north and south, and North Carrolton Avenue and Amity Street to the east and west."
La Cite rendering of phase 1 as reviewed by UDARP

Larry Silverstein and panel member put his finger on the soft spot: 
"The lead developer lacks the record".
“It’s a very, very complicated project that few people have been able to pull off successfully. ... It’s certainly a worthy project … [but] it’s half-baked.”
 His quote was omitted from the Sun's online version of the print article. The Baltimore Business Journal has a much more extensive quote from Silverstein:

"My biggest problem with this project is that it's huge, and it's the most difficult type of project to do in a city — mixed income," Silverstein said. "You end up with one developer controlling the fate of this whole neighborhood and it moves at the developer's pace. And we have a lead developer who has almost no experience on this type of project."
La Cite descrivbes the "hugeness" of the project on their website with these words:
Following an extensive selection process, La Cité Development has a fully negotiated Land Disposition Agreement with the City of Baltimore. The overall project known as Center\West is a large scale redevelopment of 32.94 acres of land in the Poppleton neighborhood of Southwest Baltimore.
In total, the project will build 2.5 million square feet creating approximately 1,700 to 1,800 units of housing through four phases of construction. This includes approximately 293 units of rental housing and 1,200 units of residential homeownership, of which 321 will be town homes. Additionally, the project will involve the development of approximately 100,000-200,000 square feet of commercial space to be located on the block between N. Schroeder and N. Amity Streets, extending from W. Baltimore to W. Lexington Street, and the creation of parking, municipal services, and green space. The housing units generated by Center\West will consist of 20 percent affordable housing, with the remaining 80 percent being sold or rented at market rate.
Development costs for all phases of the project are estimated to approach $800 million. (La Cite website)
Model of the full La Cite controlled area (top left is US 40)
The La Cite project is not linked to UM and its bio park in the same way as the EBDI masterplan is linked to Hopkins. Neither has the Center|West the oversight and backing of an entity like the Goldseker Foundation which invested heavily there softened many community impacts in East Baltimore. La Cite plans have left a large swath of Poppleton in limbo and in anticipation of what La Cite would eventually do in their later phases. As a result of UM and the private investor running independently, the UM BioPark has turned out to be very successful, probably more so than Hopkins' biotech area. But it is crucial that La Cite can deliver and the past has not been promising. It is a question of the large amounts of public backing can really make the project vialble, as desirable as that would be.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
updated 11:00h 

I have worked with Dan Bythewood of La Cite as part of the Poppleton Station Area Committee for the Red Line, participated in a session at the Planning Department in which La Cite discussed covering the sunken US 40 expressway between Harlem Park and Poppleton with big box retail, and participated in a session about green strategies for the La Cite Development at MDE. 
My firm also prepared the Poppleton Empowerment Strategic Plan in 2000 that preceded la Cite.

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