Wednesday, May 4, 2016

From Brooklyn to Block 563?

Aside from Detroit it isn't easy to find an entire city block devoid of life, especially in downtown and right next to rail transit. The 400 block east of North Howard Street reaching all the way to Park Avenue and from Mulberry to Franklin Street is such a block. The bit of activity that there is comes from a surface parking lot, occasional backyard concerts and shows in the Current Gallery. Every other building is boarded up including a "historic" two deck parking garage that has become too unsafe to use.
New life for Howard Street?

Most of the block is owned by the City. As it is often the case, one can't quite tell if the City owns the stuff, because it is in such bad shape, or if it is the other way round. City land banking can be a prudent strategy to achieve more comprehensive and better outcomes, but if protracted it can also stifle smaller scale initiatives and perpetuate abandonment.

The Baltimore Development Corporation had asked itself how big, precisely, the City aspirations for the blog should be, and embarked on a dual strategy. First part of the strategy was creating an ambitious architectural masterplan developed by Murphy Dittenhafer. With, what they considered a plausible scenario for development in hand, BDC then proceeded with a request for developer proposals (RFP), The second part of the dual strategy is incremental, i.e. to not require the whole block to be developed at once. Several proposals were submitted, apparently the submissions are in various stages of review.
Block 563 in plan view
The Baltimore SUN reported recently that BDC had vetted two of the proposals and forwarded them as recommended to the Mayor.

One proposal is for 423-425 N. Howard Street and 217-225 W. Franklin Street and involves rehabilitation and demolition. The office development cum bakery is proposed by Aziz Housseini's, AZ Group a new development group.
Housseini has collaborated with the Druid Heights Development Corporation and is currently finishing up rehabs on Callow Street in Reservoir Hill.

Mr. Housseini told me that he is looking forward to approval by the Mayor shortly and hopes to begin work later this year, an ambitious time-table given the various steps needed before RFP respondents can get site control and begin construction, UDARP review included. The AZ Group may face a problem with the design review since they propose surface parking facing Franklin Street. Right across from 217 Franklin Dominic Wiker is currently constructing multi-family housing on the large parking lot there. Surface lots would be prohibited in the proposed new zoning code not yet in effect.
The tow left buildings are part of Bakery proposal, the flat roof building
is the Current Space

The AZ proposal would bring the New York bakery Robicelli ("the pinnacle of Brooklyn confectionery hip" according to Grub Street, the online foody outlet of the NY Magazineto Baltimore, an exciting prospect right in line with the redevelopment of the Westside based on locally flavored small mom and pop retail that I have long favored. The NY Gothamist reported in November, that Robicelli would move its entire operation from Brooklyn to Baltimore.
"Having done this for 15 years, you start to chalk it up to the ebbs and flows of the business, which are natural and they happen everywhere and it's something that you're just used to. But you sit down with the numbers and realize that you're not allowed to have ebbs and flows anymore in New York because margins have gotten so tight that there's no room to wiggle anymore." (Robicelli according to Gotham)
Aziz Housseini
The other proposal under review by the Mayor involves the Current Space Gallery which took the leap of providing a proposal to acquire its current leased facility and fix it up. The Current's team consists of co-directors  Michael Benevento Monique Crabb Andrew Liang formed a development LLC. Their proposal also includes a beer garden, a prospect just as exciting as a new bakery.

This bold move was encouraged during an event in the Current in which artists of the Bromo District discussed how they can prevent displacement. Ric Royer of the Le Mondo Theater Group had set an example. Royer had responded to an earlier RFP and submitted together with developer Ted Rouse a proposal for a new theater in three buildings.

Kimberly Clark, second in command at BDC, told me that other proposals for the block are still under review and that BDC "received proposals for the entire RFP area".


Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

BDC reviews proposals for Robicelli's Bakery, Milk & Honey Market, beer garden

Related articles on this blog:
New Life for the Westside?
RFP for Block 563


A former telephone building is the biggest structure on the block and its centerpiece 
Park Avenue, potentially charming but without any life

Mulberry Street: To the left Block 563, to the right a new affordable housing project under construction

From the Request for Proposals:
The City of Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC), on behalf of the Mayor of Baltimore (the “City”), through this Request for Proposals (RFP), is seeking written proposals from developers experienced with the adaptive reuse of properties in historic districts for the purchase and redevelopment of City-owned property located in the Bromo Tower Arts & Entertainment District (“Bromo Arts District”). The intent of this RFP is to promote new construction and the adaptive re-use of these parcels (herein referred to as “the Site”) in a fashion that will achieve the City’s objectives including adaptive reuse of historically significant property, job generation, tax generation, mixed-use development with market-driven residential housing components, and a redevelopment that fits within the context of the Bromo Arts District - an emerging neighborhood with active storefronts and other ground-level uses. Developers can bid on one, some or all properties in the Site. The Site is within the Market Center National Register Historic District. Reasonable effort should be made to preserve and repurpose historically contributing buildings, as defined in the enclosed, suggested parameters (see Exhibit M). The Historic District is a defining feature which makes the area unique from other submarkets such as Harbor East. Maintaining the character of the Historic District is an overarching goal of this RFP