Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Bombing downtown

Sometimes it is tempting to give the press a quote they will most certainly print, even if it is a bit inflammatory. So I told the SUN that the Howard Brown demo sites in downtown Baltimore remind me of the bombing sites I recall from my early childhood when I lived in Stuttgart. There as here the rubble had long been cleared but the sites sat fallow with clear marks of the violence that had occurred. It took many years before postwar Germany had its Wirtschaftswunder, an economic boom form the re-building of the country.
Nothing but rubbel where the Mechanic once stood (Photo: Philipsen)

Baltimore has been re-building the post-industrial city for decades. Lately the City gets re-built on many fronts, from Oliver to Howard Street and from Port Covington to Remington. So two large rubble sites in the heart of downtown are as unusual as they are disconcerting, especially if they are both owned by the same developer.

The rule that nothing should be demolished unless reconstruction has cleared all hurdles including financing has been demanded by AIA's Urban Design Committee many times over at least 25 years and the City supports that approach, but with mixed success. Downtown is rife with examples of the opposite approach, most of those date a long time back, though. Even the huge vacant site across from the former Nationsbank Building bounded by Baltimore, Light and Redwood Streets is now under construction. Even the old McCormick site sitting fallow for decades is under construction. But not two sites by developer Howard Brown, the site where the Mechanic Theater once stood and another site on Baltimore Street just west of Howard Street.

Kirby Fowler's Downtown Partnership which presses for swift construction to occur on the site of the former Mechanic Theater is himself on the wrong side of the reconstruction rule in his current demolition of the McKeldin Fountain. destruction without a final replacement design, let alone funding.
Nothing but rubble: McKeldin Fountain (Photo: Baltimore Fishbowl)

But the most egregious violator is Howard Brown who inflicts not only one but two of these vacant "bomb sites" on downtown. For a long time now Brown doesn't provide information what the status is on either site, not even upon inquiry from the SUN. For the western location there isn't even an official excuse made as in the case of the Mechanic, where the lawsuit by Down-Under Parking is given as the official reason.

The two sites have been sitting for years now, which usually is an eternity in the schedule of any developer who is intent on recovering the cost of acquisition, design and demolition with an income producing new use. Should the developer not have that typical urgency, the suspicion is legitimate that some other agenda may be afoot which could very well be in conflict with public interest.
West Baltimore Street: Nothing but rubbel (Photo: Philipsen)

For both sites Howard Brown had hired architects and their designs reviewed by UDARP. In both cases the architecture that was shown was quite attractive. The public has a right to see investment after demolition was granted on the grounds of the great new things to come. The time to move forward is past due.


Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Baltimore SUN article
Previous blog article about the holes