Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Poppleton's long journey

The Baltimore SUN headlined on April 14, 2014 "Poppleton Redevelopment Moves Forward". The article was premature by three years. "It's been a long time, I'm looking forward to it," commented Dorothy Page, a member of the Southwest Partnership, an umbrella group for local community organizations back then. Her words are relevant now.
After 11 years of starts and stops earth is being moved in Poppleton
(Photo: Philipsen)
The deal is now real. It "closed" on January 18 of this year and construction is presently underway. Multi Housing News reported in January what cut it lose: Bank Real Estate Capital has provided a $56.1 million financing for the construction of the first phase  dubbed Park Square Homes. The local office of the multinational architecture firm Gensler is the architect. The project has been long in the making.

The City provided La Cite a the master developer agreement for vast parts of Poppleton as far back as 2006. Six years later La Cite sued the City in 2012 when Housing tried to terminate the agreement for non-action on the side of the developer. But the two sides smoothed it over and after a second run the City approved another three years later a $58.3 million TIF in 2015. Poppleton has been sitting with acres and acres of fallow sites ever since. 

The first tranche of the TIF bonds were sold late last year and provided La Cite access to 12.25 million. The Sun reported in that context that the developer would put $15 million toward the project and that La Cite was seeking $45.8 million in state bonds and roughly $4.2 million in low-income housing tax credits. About $8.5 million of the city bonds would pay for public improvements, such as sidewalks, curbs and street paving, and a small park. At the time councilman Carl Stokes identified this TIF as one that follows the intended purpose of tax increment financing: Investment in distressed communities. Developer Larry Silverstein who sits on the Finance Board, which had to approve the TIF,  was less sure about the deal at the time and abstained. "It's half baked at this point", he told the SUN. An area stakeholder who doesn't want to go on record still shares this view.


An early massing model showing the scale of the redevelopment (Gensler)
The first phase of La Cite's multi-phase development is a six story 262 unit mixed use development with a $80 million price tag with 20% affordable housing for below 50% of AMI (Area Median Income).

According to the architect's website the overall project known as Center\West will build 3.2 million square feet creating approximately between 1,700 and 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, about 100,000-200,000 square feet of commercial space are planned to be located on the block between N. Schroeder and N. Amity Streets, extending from W. Baltimore to W. Lexington Street. Further elements of the overall plan are the creation of parking, municipal services, green space, hotels, a large shopping center, and office space. The full build-out is expected to take between 15 and 20 years". Bythewood said his firm is exploring speeding up that timeline.

Based on press releases Mayor Pugh offered cautious optimism “The development of the Poppleton neighborhood will provide much needed access to quality affordable housing and is an important part of the revitalization of our city” and so did La Cite chief Dan Bythewood. “At La Cité, we are motivated by opportunities to improve neighborhoods. We’re really excited to be part of that rebirth and contributing a significant amount of investment capital into west Baltimore.” the co-founder and president of the development firm' is reported to have said. More opportunity for comments on the importance of this development will come at the groundbreaking ceremony scheduled for this Thursday.

Earlier renderings of the planned development (Gensler)
A large mixed use development in a distressed community is, indeed, worth close observation. The only other time Baltimore could witness investment on that scale among a sea of abandonment was on the east-side near Hopkins as part of EBDI. There and here Baltimore's signature hospitals are the anchors, here and there a biotech park is the closest neighbor to new mixed use and housing. But unlike Hopkins at EBDI, the University of Maryland hospital is not a partner in the La Cite development.

Cecil Clarke, an area businessman who owns a number of properties south of the La Cite development area is happy to see the progress. He is fixing up a dozen rowhouses on Baltimore Street and is ready for more construction on Schroeder Street where he oversaw the demolition of one of his buildings which, as he said, had been a threat due to its poor condition. Now all that is left is a pile of rubble as in much of Poppleton.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

At the ground breaking Mayor Pugh, Council President Young, Housing Commissioner Breverman and Councilman Barnett had only nice things to say about La Cite and the project that took so long to commence. Below a few images.

Dan Bythewood jr., CEO of La Cite
(Photo: Philipsen)

Father and son Bythewood: Friendly with the Mayor
(Photo: Philipsen)

For the groundbreaking the fences received renderings
of the project (Photo: Philipsen)

Mayor Pugh: Investment in the neighborhoods
(Photo: Philipsen)

Preparing to "turn dirt": High heels and ties (Photo: Philipsen)
Previous article in this space: Held together by TIFs and bonds

Gensler project website