Friday, October 28, 2016

Stealth transformation

While all eyes are fixed on the big developments at HarborPoint and Port Covington another transformation is well underway and it is flying largely under the radar. There isn't even a name to pinpoint where it happens: Carroll Camden South? Sharp Leadenhall West? Spring Garden Industrial? South Baltimore? Casino City?
the view from the BARCS shoreline (photo: Philipsen)

The area in question is hard to burn into the mental map of anybody who doesn't live in the communities of Ridgely's Delight and Sharp Leadenhall and knows the terrain as an adjacent home turf. Bisected by an elevated interstate (I-395), elevated light rail, elevated Russel Street, MLK ramps, Ostend and Hanover Street viaducts, Camden Line train tracks, stadium lots, the Middle Branch and the South Baltimore incinerator it is in many parts a no-mans land that is temporarily usurped by tail-gaters, casino visitors, inter-city bus riders or folks that look for illegal parking spots during stadium events.  Of course, it is terrain in which Baltimore industries used to make stuff, and in spite of many vacancies, adaptive re-use and demolition, the feel of the area is still industrial. CSX Diesel engines are humming, trucks are lurching over potholes, abandoned or still active rail tracks poke through the asphalt. Warehouse, loading docks and chain-link fences dominate and then there is the City's animal shelter BARCS, long in play for some type of redevelopment.

So what is the stealth transformation? The biggest one has lately become highly visible from I-395 when entering the City. What are these huge structures sticking out of a sea of smaller buildings? It is Towson based Cave Valley's $275 million entry into South Baltimore. It has shot up to full height on two parcels in recent months, a third block tower is still getting taller. The new infill is truly big in small Sharp Leadenhall, a historic African American community squeezed between Otterbein, Federal Hill and the Casino which the Sun characterized so:
Established by freed slaves and German immigrants in about 1790, Sharp-Leadenhall was home to important institutions: large churches, the Baltimore Abolitionist Society and the first school for African-Americans south of the Mason-Dixon line. In 1890, more than 4,400 people lived in the area, which included what is now Otterbein. (article)
Parking on the waterfront: Casino garage (photo: Philipsen)
Other elements of transformation include the new Greyhound Bus Station and the attempt of the City to get back to the idea of an entertainment and recreation hub that was included in an older BDC masterplan before the Casino took over. Two lots right at the Middle Branch shoreline where BARCS currently operates an animal shelter and a surface lot sits idling are City property and apparently up for sale.

Ideas for how to transform "Baltimore's second waterfront" go at least 25 years back, when the AIA Urban Design Committee issued a Middle Branch masterplan concept promoting the shallow marshy waters as a biodiversity habitat for family friendly recreation. The idea then was to tether stadium money to the transformation of the disjointed lands and somehow cross over the CSX tracks in the process. Alas, the Stadium Authority didn't want to expand the Oriol Park masterplanning success south and rather built the football stadium expeditiously on the footprint the baseball stadium plan had already carved out for it.

The Baltimore Development Corporation meanwhile came up with another masterplan for the Warner Street area oscillating between its industrial obligations from the Carroll Camden industrial area west of Russell Street and bigger ideas of additional sports facilities where the Casino now sits. Of course, the Horseshoe gambling empire trumped everything and is the most visible transformer of the area. Dominating or almost preempting future waterfront ideas is the Casino's giant garage right at the shore, highly visible face to I-395 and I-95 especially at night.

The City had embarked on a larger Middle Branch masterplan incorporating Pat Turners gigantic Westport redevelopment plans but spending little thought on Port Covington. In the ongoing saga of most things coming out differently than originally planned, Sagamore has since taken over on a scale and ambition that dwarfs even Turner's big plans and lifted the Middle Branch masterplan to an entirely new level.
Big stuff: Caves Valley in Sharp Leadenhall. Historic preservation
affordable housing and protection of cultural heritage are issues
that need to be addressed (photo: Philipsen)





Casino proceeds paid for a very timid "Gateway Masterplan" that presumably dresses up the southern gateway into Baltimore coming in on the B-W Parkway. Alas the plan feel short of stirring any attention and is too weak and limited to really guide the future of the hole in the doughnut in which BARCS sits.

It is now time to expand to come up with a bunch of strong ideas for those no-mans lands. It is important to tie it all together in a way that could make the former industrial area as important as Portland's Pearl District. Access, connections and circulation are problematic and need improvements for pedestrians and bikes that are as sweeping as those freeway bridges.

The BARCS parcel and the parking lot next to the casino complex could be very attractive access points to this body of water most even don't know exists. These are key parcels that could make the future of the area a smashing hit or a dud. A golf driving range that has been mentioned would probably fall into the dud category.


Klaus Philipsen, FAIA




tracks, fences, industry and murals (photo: Philipsen)


BARCS, important but hardly the best shoreline use (photo: Philipsen)

surface parking behind BARCS right at the water's edge (photo: Philipsen)

A large surface lot for which Horseshoe apparently has options (photo: Philipsen)

Sharp Leadenhall West: The third Caves Valley block. View from Ostend Street (photo: Philipsen)
Caves Valley rendering of the third block as shown to UDARP in 2015 (Design Collective)

Re-purposed industrial building (photo: Philipsen)

More change will be coming for sure (photo: Philipsen)

Caves Valley apartments as seen from Cross Street in Sharp Leadenhall (photo: Philipsen)


the same corner in a rendering by Design Collective

South Gateway masterplan: Plan area