Thursday, March 1, 2018

Is the third time the charm for the Mayfair?

The battered 1904 Mayfair Theater on Howard Street reflects the status of  the middle section of Howard Street: Dwindled glory. Vacant since 1986 and originally flanked by the Delphy Hotel, it is now only a facade that is left standing next to a vacant site. Across the street is a surface parking lot where a row of vibrant business buildings once stood, a shuttered diner heading off an entire block of vacant buildings of various styles (only one building is in use as the Current Gallery).
1919 when the area of North Howard Street was a theater and performance  district  (Mayfair: the 3rd building on the right as seen from the center)

But there are also many signs that the turnaround for which the Baltimore Development Corporation(BDC)  and Westside stakeholders have been waiting for decades, may finally be here:  The most notable signals of a new era are the renovated  Hochschild Kohn distribution warehouse which is now 520 Park Avenue, the bustling Mount Vernon Marketplace, the sleek Cafe Ceremony and the brandnew 171 compendium apartments of 500 Park Avenue also by the Time Group in front of the old warehouse.
The Kernan hotel was restored, but the old Delphy is coming down in 2015
(Photo: Philipsen)

Other change is still mostly invisible, but the vacant group of buildings at the southeast corner of Howard and Franklin is supposed to be renovated as a mixed use project with 38 apartments by the AZ Group (Aziz Housseini), a beer garden is planned and the rest of the 400 block (eastside) is slated to be redeveloped by the Poverni Sheikh Group as five renovated storefronts with 39 apartments above. The developer had been awarded that block in May 2017 and has reportedly begun some clean-up work.

The same developer recently fixed up the former Planned Parenthood building north of the Mayfair as an urban self-storage unit complex with a smattering of retail on the first floor facing the Centre Street light rail station. The group also owns an office building a block west of the Mayfair on Franklin Street. At Centre street a popular dog park brings additional eyes to the once derelict section of  an area in which the only shining light were the Chesapeake Commons, one of the earliest adaptive reuse projects in Baltimore in which the old City College complex was converted into apartments.

In the 400 block on Howard Street's westside the southwest corner building (St. James Place) has changed hands recently. The buyer, allegedly is planning to fill a vacant lot adjacent to the property facing Howard Street. Also in that block work is well progressed on the Le Mondo Theatre project.
Le Mondo now joins a growing hive of arts activity downtown alongside organizations such as Current Gallery, EMP Collective, Eubie Blake Cultural Center, DCAC, MAP, Everyman Theatre, 14K Cabaret,  Springsteen Gallery, Gallery 4, Muse 360, Annex Theater, Arena Players, Open Space, and several other artist-run spaces who call the neighborhood home. (Mondo website)
More established institutions in the area include  the Hippodrome Theatre, Lexington Market, the currently renovated Enoch Pratt Free Library, the Peabody Institute of Music, the Walters Art Museum, the Indigo Hotel, the movie famed young women leadership school, Mount Vernon Square and the Basilica of the Assumption.
Le Mondo project on the westside of the 400 block of N. Howard St
(photo: Le Mondo)

After a fire in the long vacant Delphy hotel building in 2014 spread into the Mayfair that had lost its roof years ago, BDC decided to demolish not only the former Delphy corner building but also the entire back of the Mayfair theater, giving up on a previous notion of a new apartment building that could be erected inside the shell of the old Mayfair in a similar way as the apartments inside a Clipper Mill foundry building.

The investments in the area and the clearing of much of the site in the offering have given BDC hope that they could give the 0.4 acre Mayfair properties another run. They issued an RFP for the third time this week with a return deadline for proposals by April 30. The developer faces a number of restrictions and incentives listed in the RFP:

  • The Site is within the Market Center National Register Historic District (“Historic District”) 
  • the Mayfair Theatre is designated as a Baltimore City Landmark by the Baltimore City Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP). 
  • The Site is located in a C-5-HS, “Howard Street Mixed-Use Sub-district” zone a transition zone between downtown, Mt Vernon and Seton Hill.
  • The Property is located within the Market Center Urban Renewal Plan area with its own controls
  • The Site is located within an Enterprise Zone (EZ).
  • The site "may qualify" for brownfield clean-up incentives
Not much is left of  the Mayfair (SUN photo)
The demolition may have made things somewhat simpler, but redevelopment is still not easy, especially with the requirement to incorporate the old facade. Access and orientation will be the largest challenges, especially for apartments. Interested parties can review the site any time, but there will be a pre-proposal conference on the site on Friday, March 16th at 10:00 AM.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Related articles:
Facad-ectomy at the Mayfair

Housing in the Westside: resored Kernan hotel (left), 520 Park and 500 Park (center), St James Place, (right).

Mayfair during demolition work (Photo: Philipsen)

The Mayfair as a movie theater when it still had another theater, the Stanley  as its neighbor to the north

The current look from Howard Street (SUN photo)

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