Friday, August 31, 2018

Will the latest frontier of the craft brew business jeopardize Main Street?

Brewpubs have been for some time indicators of main street revivals across America. Baltimore's Brewer's Art on Charles Street or the Pratt Street Ale house as well as Ellicott City's Brewing Company are examples of early versions of economic development through beer. Even the more recent Brew House #16 on Calvert Street, installed in an old fire house, still has a fairly cozy decor and is facing an urban street with the beer tanks in the back. Similarly, Peabody Heights on 30th Street still sits on a street corner and is an integral part of a neighborhood, even if the building is of industrial provenance.
Tap room at Union Craft Brewery in Medfield (Photo: Philipsen)

The latest trendy way of tasting craft beer has put the early formula upside down: No longer are we talking about a bar with a few sud tanks on display: The new kind is industrial in scale and greets the beer connaisseur with all the rawness of old style industrial quarters. The approach is made for semis, the decor is the loading dock. Does it spell the end of Main Street revival?

 In Baltimore, the brand-new Union Craft Brewing Company and its architect Ziger Snead take the industrial flavor to new heights after much success in its previous space in nearby Woodberry where the taproom was just an adjunct to the brewing facility. Union describes its new path on its website this way:
The craft brewery has grown at a record pace since its inception. Its new space will utilize 43,000 square feet for brewing, fermentation and packaging plus feature a 7,500-square-foot-taproom and private event space.
Making beer is front and center (Photo: Philipsen)

“When we began this journey five years ago, we set out to do two things: brew world-class beer and foster community wherever we go,” said Jon Zerivitz, UNION’s Co-founder and Director of Marketing. “I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, but our little brewery on Union Avenue has reached capacity, both on the beer front and as a gathering place. This neighborhood is our home, and I’m thrilled to say that we will be here for a long time to come. Our new space provides us the opportunity to develop a bigger and better Baltimore brewery. It will be a true destination experience for local beer lovers as well as those visiting our city from outside of Maryland.”
Calling the barren expanse a beer garden would be an exaggertaion
(Photo: Philipsen)
On a steamy recent Saturday the place in Medfield (now east of the JFX) was  packed inside and out. The beer garden is a concrete pad including Jersey barriers, picnic tables and cornhole games. Kids were running around, although playthings were sparse. If the taproom inside has all the charm of a warehouse, it is because that is what it is (formerly used by Sears and Hedwin manfucaturing). When crowded, the noise level becomes frenetic, with beer flowing freely, the decibel scale is open ended.

Union knew that drawing people to a location that can essentially only be reached by car or by an unpleasant walk along 41st Street, it needed critical mass. So they came up with the clever concept of the Union Collective, an assortment of businesses that just like brewing, thrives on juxtaposing production and consumption. As a result, 10.5 acres and 138,000 square feet of warehouse space were transformed into a collaborative assembly of the Charmery (ice cream), Baltimore Whiskey and Vent coffee roster. There is also Earthtrek, a fitness and climbing gym.
Lined up along the loading dock: Collective businesses
(Photo: Philipsen)

It never takes long until urban experimentation by authentic local entrepreneurs gets noticed by the corporate types. In the case of beer, the giants Coors, Anheuser Busch and Miller have long realized that craft beer isn't just for a few wussies. While their pick-up riding, gun loving, Trump voting stereotypical clientele still swears by Coors and Bud Light in cans (judging by discarded cans along rural back roads), the big corporations didn't take chances and began selling fake craft beer under brands like Blue Moon.

The British beer giant Guinness took a much bigger leap: It bought the entire  62-acre former Seagram’s bottling plant in Baltimore County and spent $80 million to turn it into a beer theme park of sorts, replete with bus bays and enough parking for an entire shopping mall.

The facility is the foreign brewers only US place of production, and here comes the kicker: Its beer is no longer only the thick and creamy trademark stout beer, but Guinness now produces here not only a "Blonde" (best described as a European "continental" beer like Stella Artois) but also real local craft beer. The menu lists a dozen or so types and flavors of beer that the waiters describe as "experimental". Slogan: "Anything we can dream up, we get to brew up".
Parking for an entire mall: Guinness in Halethorpe/Relay
(Photo: Philipsen)

Aside from the Collective concept, Guinness has taken the architecture of industrial chic and put it on steroids, both in size and in refinement. Coming here is supposed to be an experience and supposed to take time. There is a gift shop, acres of open space with rain gardens and a playground, indoor and outdoor bars to get the beer, and also a sit-down area with service and some bar food.

Everything is well designed, follows a common branding scheme and easily consumable. The architect is local design firm Design Collective.

For the visitors who can't reconcile driving and drinking (even though it is kind of baked into the entire concept to do so), there is a special Lyft pick-up place. Uber isn't even cool enough any longer. Councilman Tom Quirk in charge of this district expects 300,000 visitors a year and an economic impact on the entire County. (By comparison, Kevin Plank's whiskey theme-park, the Sagamore Spirit Distillery, expects 100,000 visitors per annum). Judging from this Thursday crowd, Guinness may well exceed its goal.
Giftshop and beer artefacts (Photo: Philipsen)

In a way the brewing business is coming full circle. Not only were many US cities like Baltimore historically home to many local brews which eventually grew to regional or even national reach, but the large industrial type breweries had long done tours and had tasting rooms. The Guinness Storehouse in Dublin is a well known example.

The urban revitalization with coffee shops, brewpubs food halls and farmers markets has helped commercial districts to get another lease on life by getting people out on the streets and sidewalks and uses back into the vacant buildings. The most recent trend of scaling this up and supersize it could have the same effect on Main Street as the supersizing of retail first in malls and then in big-boxes had.

It is too early to tell, where the growing craft beer industry will go and whether Union's new concept or Guinness' corporate adaptation describe a pervasive trend. But it is conceivable that Hampden's Charmery becomes a dairy theme park, followed by coffee roasting theme parks and, well, the chocolate theme park, we have it already. Even if that were to happen, the Avenue in Hampden or Washington Boulevard in Pigtown could continue to thrive, but they would certainly have more competition. Meanwhile, the proliferation of better, locally crafted beer is reason to celebrate, even if some would call it elitist.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
everything is large at Guinness (Photo: Philipsen)

One of several Guinness bar areas

This, too is hardly a beer garden (Photo: Philipsen)

Covered restaurant outdoor spaces (Photo: Philipsen)

A grand approach: Designed for the busload
Beer garden of another kind: Beer from a shipping container (Photo: Philipsen)
Calvert Distilling Company around 1936 (later Seagram's). Thanks to Adam Blumenthal for sending this!

The same buildings are still there. The taproom public building received a new skin (Photo: Philipsen)


Other links: Baltimore Magazine (Guinness)
Baltimore Magazine (Union Craft)

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Try and error at Baltimore Markets: Progress on Broadway


Fells Point's Broadway Market, which consists of two market sheds, has been for a long time an illustrative case for the difficulties Baltimore has with its six public markets. After many fits and starts the two parts are now moving forward in a coordinated fashion. Both represent different development models, a public and a public-private one. In 2019 the public model will reach the finish line first.
Broadway Market (north shed) under construction (Photo: Philipsen)

That the markets in well-to-do areas like Fells Point and Federal Hill ("Cross Street Market") can fall on equally hard times as their brethren in disinvested communities (Northeast Market, Avenue Market, Hollins Market and the famous Lexington Market) is evidence that public markets need investment to adapt to changing retail conditions to survive, no matter where they are located.

The frustrating part for a long time was that other cities have figured this out long before Baltimore. Those cities are running flourishing public markets famous as the Philadelphia Reading Terminal Market, Seattle's Pike's Place Market, or San Francisco's Ferry Building Market.  Smaller markets in Cincinnatti, Cleveland, Rochester Roanoke and dozens of other US and Canadian cities are booming as well. One could say public markets have seen a renaissance around North America, indoors and outdoors.
Contemporary front at Fleet Street with historic sign
 (Rendering  PI.KL Architects)

Broadway's north shed is now the second local case where the City fixes a market with public money and keeps it in public hand as owner and operator. The first was the renovation of the Northeast Market.

Additionally and concurrently the City is trying a public private partnership approach for the Cross Street and Hollins Market sites which will come to fruition a bit later than Broadway. The south shed on Broadway facing the recently refurbished Broadway Square will be a private restaurant development, but the City will retain ownership.

The about 8,000 square foot North Shed has stood largely vacant for some time and will be completely redesigned following plans by Baltimore: Development Solutions with principal Dominic Wiker as project manager on behalf of the owner. He developed Mount Vernon Marketplace with the Time Group. PI.KL is the architect with Pavlina Ilieva and Kuo Lian as a principals who designed Seawall's popular R. House in Remington. The general contractor is Plano Coudon.

After a well attended public kick-off in December of last year and around a dozen follow up meetings with community members (Fells Point Task Force and other community organizations), generally supportive of the concept. The architects presented their design first to the historic commission CHAP and received unanimous approval at the Planning Commission in March of this year. (Where CHAP approves plans, they are not additionally been reviewed by the design review panel UDAAP).

A lease of the south shed was approved for use by a single restaurant tenant around the same time. The schedule assumes that the south shed renovation will follow the completion of the north shed, allowing existing market vendors an opportunity to continue operation and then move to the north shed if they desire.  According to Colin Tarbert, Deputy Chief of Strategic Alliances in the Mayor's Office, who commented for this article, the Baltimore Public Markets Corporation "is coordinating all design elements with the south shed tenant.  The two sheds will be different, but coordinated. The goal is to tie both sheds together as one Broadway Market through graphics and other common elements."
North shed as it looked last December (Photo Philipsen)

The largest design change will be the addition of a lot more daylight by opening up all windows allowing a full view across the market.

The north end freestanding faux brick facade as a timid attempt of recalling the times when the market was a tall two story building, was demolished. The remaining addition will receive a contemporary design in the makeover. According to Tarbert, the north end "will be market stalls that will have open windows on the north fa├žade harkening back to the previous addition when Prevas Bros was there to serve patrons outside on the sidewalk". The mix of fresh and prepared food sales in the market is described as "market meets food hall" by Pavlina Ilieva. According to the BBJ the market will have 11 vendors and include three who have operated in the south shed for years: Vickki's Fells Point Deli, Sal's Seafood and Sophia's Place European Deli. Additional vendor applications are currently under review.
Proposed seating area  and trellis south of the north shed
(Rendering  PI.KL Architects)
There will no longer be a parking lot south of the north shed. Instead, as the renderings show, the area will be used as an open plaza, with outdoor seating, landscaping and a trellis for shading. The current driveway will become a pedestrian approach path. Once the south shed is done, and with the just recently finished Broadway Square rehabilitation, the entire median from Thames to Fleet Street will have been redone.

Together with the adaptive reuse transformation of the Recreation Pier into  the Pendry Hotel, and the Union Wharf and other developments,  the southern part of Fells Point has never looked as well.  Together these investments should put to rest any concern, that Fells Point was too worn and had become a tired place losing its spot as a Baltimore attraction and desirable community. On a 95F summer evening, with a fresh breeze from the water and the new water taxis coming in and out, the foot of Broadway was the place to be.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA  corrected for the gross area of the North Shed

Related articles about Baltimore's Markets on this blog:

Baltimore Public Markets are in danger



The Broadway Market  at Fleet Street before a fire destroyed it. 
Current look of the interior after side windows were opened. "Market meets food hall"
(Photo: Baltimore Public Markets)

The refurbished Broadway Square (Photo: Philipsen)

The foot of Broadway with Pier and Pendry (Photo: Philipsen)


Monday, August 27, 2018

Ellicott City - destroyed by floods and now by demolition?

Founded only 43 years after Baltimore in 1772 and four years before the United States were born, Ellicott City with the oldest train station in the nation has survived 246 years of milling, commerce, floods, and fires. In the fall of 2018 Howard County Executive Alan Kittleman stands for re-election. On August 23 he stood on Ellicott City's historic Main Street and said in an almost Lutheran pose ("Here I stand, I can do no other") he wished he didn't have to be there. What he announced would change the town more profoundly that almost anything in its history before, catastrophes included: A plan to wipe out the entire eastern half of Main Street from the stately Caplan department store building all the way to the historic train station of 1830.
Two house wide 1926 Caplan Department Store long
turned antique store, destroyed in 2016 and in 2018, last used
as a fitness center for women.

This was an unusual announcement in many ways. When did a politician running for election ever announce such a bold and move that was bound to create a fierce backlash? When in the face of calamity had a politician not resorted to the usual "we  (fill in the name of a place) do not give up, we are resilient, we stand together and we will rebuild better than ever before". Indeed, Kittleman had used those terms after the flood of 2016. But when an even bigger flood hit only two years later, Kittleman was no longer setting on doubling down and re-building. This time, he sets on drastic measures.
“I wish we weren’t here, but this a change that we need. In 2016, we were told that the flood that struck our town had a one-in-a-thousand chance of occurring, then not even two years later it happened again and it was even worse. ... Our need to adapt to this likelihood and our need to first and foremost protect life safety has changed the conversation.” Kittleman
Couch strategists had long suggested to give  in to nature which time and again had sought the small town out for devastating floods. A1868 flood washed away 14 houses, killing at least 39 people. Since then no less than 13 other floods, mostly coming from the Patapso River up and not from the hills down, have caused havoc at regular intervals. Even since the 2018 flood in May of this year,  Ellicott City had been once more evacuated when the channels filled to the edge in yet another deluge, before the water receded again just in time before the spill would have once again run through the street. So here was finally a courageous leader, to face the truth. He has a big plan and apparently big money, too. What is not to like about it? It turns out plenty. Well, sometimes the medicine is worse than the disease.
Slated for demolition all the way back to the Caplan Store sign

Foremost, taking down 10 buildings (8049 to 8125 Main St. including Phoenix Emporium, Portalli's, the Bean Hollow coffee shop and former Caplan's building) on the last few hundred feet of a fairly large watershed entailing several square miles is not really medicine at all. Removing those buildings does not reduce the flood, it only removes the damage that those floods cause on the those buildings.

It is as if one would remove the sidewalks downstream from a popular watering hole so that the drunk drivers can't mow down any pedestrians. It is blaming the victim instead of the perpetrator.

Neither floods coming from below nor from above are made any worse by the presence of these buildings. What destroyed them was the water rushing down the middle of Main Street because narrow culverts half a mile upstream didn't have anywhere near the necessary capacity to keep the water in the stream channels of the Hudson and the Tiger. True, Kittleman's suggested plan includes widening those "pinch-points" and also two shortcut culverts to be drilled underground that would direct water on a direct route into the Patapsco. The logic seems to be, that once the upstream pinch-points have been removed, water wouldn't fit in the channel behind those 10 buildings because some span over it. While this may be true, other buildings upstream cover the Tiber as well and are not proposed for demolition. Some buildinsg proposed for demo don't even span over the Tiber. In some cases its only a rear addition  that would have to be be removed to open up the channel. It isn't clear how the demolition of those buildings would prevent overflow water to once again run in the street and damage buildings, possibly in a hereto unknown manner.
Boarded and weakened: Businesses wrecked by the flood and now
part of the demolition proposal. Buildings of a styles and vintages

Hdraulic and stormwater experts hold that stormwater management is most effective in the head-water area and least effective at the bottom of a stream. "End of pipe solutions" are heroic because they deal with water where it is the most visible and the most destructive, but as in the example of the bar making drivers drunk, the solution resides at the source.

Kittleman knows, of course that dealing with 10 buildings is easier than with hundreds. Besides, even development moratoria and stormwater retrofits for all development in the watershed would still not be enough to end catastrophic flooding from 6" per hour rain events, because those rains exceed anything found in any stormwater management manual. In other words, even the hundreds smaller upstream interventions would need to be complemented by heroic engineering efforts to retain large amounts of water so they can't reach the Main Street area. Gigantic holding basins fall into that category, possibly at the large surface lots on the western end of Main Street. They could be dug up for holding tanks large enough to make a significant difference. Ideally, additional retention ponds would have to be created in the higher elevations above Ellicott City.

this is the most recent new construction, also part of the demolition proposal
All this has been studied in great detail and it has been vetted for years by stakeholders in the Ellicott City flood working group.

It isn't entirely clear, how Kittleman came up with his large scale demo plan, even those who have been involved in past strategy sessions seem to be surprised. This is another legitimate objection against the drastic plan: The 2018 repeat flood did not create really any new facts, so why isn't the suggested solution logically derived from the long phase of deliberations that resulted from a process including the voices that need to be heard? The demolition strategy is not only costly ($50 million), it surprises some business owners who were set to rebuild and reopen and have already invested in their buildings now slated to come down. One creative startegy are concrete flood walls inside the historic looking rebuilt storefront.

An argument of another kind is historic preservation. Preservation Maryland has been involved in the debate about the future of the quaint historic mill town for years. In 2016, when the first large flood rushing down Main Street in many years, undercut an especially old building in the curve of Main Street to the extent that Kittleman was ready to order emergency demolition to ensure the safety of rescue workers, Preservation Maryland had sent engineers who devised a plan to save the building. The non-profit devoted to the history of Maryland even opened a branch office in Ellicott City to oversee the reconstruction after 2016 and issued a report in 2017about their response, their assistance and lessons to be learned.
Strips of freshly poured sidewalk concrete in front of structures now slated
for demolition
The tired theme that preservationists are hopelessly mired in the past and are unable or unwilling to accept the dynamic new challenges of the 21st century has often been repeated. As preservationists, we know this to be utter fallacy, but our experience in Ellicott City was an opportunity for us to show our friends and detractors alike that the work of our movement is squarely focused on the future and the health of communities. Preservation may be our tool, but community vibrancy is always our goal. (Preservation MD, Ellicott City Report 2017)
This time around, they were not even consulted before the demolition edict was announced. Accordingly, Executive Director Nicholas Redding's response was swift:
Demolition of historic buildings, is not [...] a proven strategy nor has it been adequately studied in Ellicott City to understand its hydrological impact. Furthermore, this plan, developed without substantive public input, could result in the de-listing of Ellicott City from the National Register of Historic Places which would curtail certain incentives and tax credits available for the historic community.
Perhaps most concerning is that this $50 million demolition plan does not appear to substantively mitigate or resolve flood risks. At the same time, by removing large portions of the built environment, new flood patterns could arise and potentially cause extensive damage to the National Historic Landmark B&O Railroad station which would sit in an even more vulnerable location. 
Especially the granite structures are typical for historic Ellicott City
Clearly, the discussion cannot split along the lines of leaving everything as it is and a radical solution on the other side. Change and major investment is undoubtedly needed to protect lives, properties and history. But it must be allowed to ask what the most effective strategy is and whether it is necessary to subject the quaint town to more destruction in order to save the town.

After all, the town's Main Street is the source of its identity, especially in the lower segment. The buildings to come down are not just some random buildings, which have long established the characteristics of this town. What sits across the street would no longer work without the brethren on the other side which give balance and define the space which gently, faithfully and also fatefully, follows the contours of the Tiber valley.

Enlarged culverts, upstream retention basins, active defenses such as temporary flood-barriers and parking prohibition when flood warnings have been issued would go a long way to make the next big storm much less frightening.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Update: Preservation Maryland released a special report on Ellicott City on Wednesday 8/29/2018. It can be found here. It outlines four secnarios which all include preservation of at least the shells of the building proposed for demolition by the County.  

Other Ellicott City articles on this blog:

What nearly wiped out Ellicott City and what should be done about it (Aug. 2016)





Stores east of the Tiber alley (the coffee shop) closed and slated for demo

The phoenix Bar, twice rebuilt and willing to reopen

Buildings over top of the Tiger have caught debris and water

The rear additions which may restrict water flow could be removed
while the fronts remain

The final pinch pint before the Tiber joins the Patapsco: The railroad bridge



Friday, August 24, 2018

The miraculous transformation of 3,250 acres of industrial wasteland

When Aaron Tomarchio, Senior executive in administration, government relations, communications and public affairs approaches the gate which secures the southern end of one of the country's largest brown-fields, towering high in the company SUV,  he still has to show his badge. Since his passenger doesn't have one, the guard says: "I better scan your license plate".
Everything is big at Tradepoint Atlantic: Approach road with shoulder,
walk and bikeway, trees

Such is the security for international shipping. Everyone else out knows Aaron. After all, Tradepoint Atlantic is a small organization of only 75 people, 25 of which run a short-line railroad and fix up rusty tanker railcars, the others hold the strings for a future which affects Baltimore County, the Port of Baltimore, the region, Under Armour and in a very small way also Fed Ex, Harley Davidson, and even Amazon. Exactly 23% of the future have already arrived in only four years. The final development is estimated to amount to 14.4 million square feet.

Tomarchio reports to Hilco Global and Redwood capital who bought the old Bethlehem steel plant after some short term property transfers (2013 Environmental Liability Transfer Inc.) in 2014 for a mere $100 million. RG Steel, the last company making steel there, had gone bust in 2012. It looks like the investors landed a good deal.

They immediately understood that the name "Sparrows Point" did not properly convey the giant scale of the site. 3,250 acres, that isn't just a point for a tiny bird. They called it "Tradepoint Atlantic", a much more apt name for one of the best development sites on the entire Atlantic sea-board of North America. The site, surrounded by water on three sides would cover the 45 acre demolished Owings Mills mall 72 times,  Baltimore's HarborPoint (2.7 million square feet of development) 125 times and the proposed Port Covington area 14 times. There are still 100 miles of usable railroad track on Sparrow's Point which the investors bought lock, stock and barrel, including five engines which already ply the tracks, repainted and rebranded in the Tradepoint colors.
Recent aerial view before Amazon was completed

Pretty much everything else has been demolished. The famous Bethlehem star which crowned the blast furnace during the holidays sits on the ground awaiting reinstallation somewhere, along with the Bessemer furnace arch. A lone water tower will remain standing,  the towering old powerplant stands half-way dismantled.

Regret that such structures didn't find a new use are met with a shrug: Too costly, too impractical. It is clear, the team is looking forward, not back and its mindset is engineering and economics, not design and city building. What gets the new owners excited are features like a protected deep-water shipping basin (to be stabilized with a $20 million federal TIGER grant) and a long finger pier allowing for a total of 5 shipping berths which will be dredged to up to 47' depth, allowing the biggest ships to dock.  The dredging will be paid by Tradepoint, the spolis will be deposited in coordination with the Port's own dredging efforts. The large cranes on the pier were removed because they were specialized for steel and didn't work to unload other bulk cargok, Tomarchio explains, a bit exasperated by the constant search for artifacts which could have remained as witnesses to the history of steel making. Competition with the Port of Baltimore? No, Tomarchio says, "we are working with the Port". Bursting out of its seams from record business, the State's Port Authority is already directing some bulk cargo to Tradepoint just as then then Delegate Olszewski and the late County Executive Kamenetz had envisioned when the future of Sparrows Point was debated before Tradepoint Atlantic came in.
[In the short term, piers on Coke Point's east side are] "immediately available for bulk commodities, including loading and unloading of automobiles," Kevin Kamenetz in May 2013 to the SUN.
Room for big ships. Unloading with their own rigs
Exactly this is happening now.
Other success stories about the redevelopment of the gigantic site have come in regularly, a Fed-Ex distribution center, and a Pasha car import operation are already active, a huge 1,3 million square-foot Under Armour distribution center is almost complete and now a 857,500-square-foot Amazon "Fulfillment Center" is about to be opened. That is a hall with a usable area of nearly 20 acres! On-site inspection clearly confirms that Under Armour’s distribution warehouse is much bigger than the endless Amazon facility. In other words, ginormous. Tamarchio shrugs off any worry that Plank may have overestimated their own needs, even though it is curious that the company is delaying moving into the completed facility, rare in the world of real estate.

Regardless, those distribution warehouse facilities alone will shortly employ more workers than RG Steel had in its final years. In the complete build-out, Tradepoint Atlantic employment will be around 10,000 people, a third of the 30,000 workers that found employment at Bethlehem Steel during the peak of steel production here, but a significant employment center, nevertheless.
Aaron Tomarchio, Senior Executive explaining the TIF

Woven in between the shiny new warehouses and enterprises are business opportunities that arise during the transition. The enterprise of fixing up railcars is such an opportunity, on-site facilities which turn rubble into crusher run for roads and parking lots another, so is a legacy scrap-yard as well as being landlord for a Baltimore County public works yard and a fire station. The site also hosts a basin for the treated water of the Middle River sewage treatment plant (during steel production the water had been used for cooling and processing) and accommodates space for over 20,000 Volkswagen TDI Diesels which the company had to buy back as part of a settlement with the US Department of Justice because of  cheater software they used to "pass" emission tests. The ultimate fate of the cars is unknown as of yet. On the giant peninsula those acres of cars are only a spec in the landscape.

On the east side, facing the outlying areas of Edemere across Jones Creek, are the North Point and the Pleasant Yacht Clubs, part of a larger green buffer bisected by a railyard and Wharf road. All part of Tradepoint's territory. Wouldn't this be a great area for recreational trails that could loop through the peninsula providing amenities for employees and nearby residents alike? Tomarchio looks non-committal. Yes, he admits, that could be nice and quickly adds, that already the new roads are equipped with separated walk-bike-ways.  "This isn't Port Covington", he points out several times, meaning this isn't a new town but "an industrial development with large trucks".

Sparrows Point tells the story of America, the story of an industrial nation in the midst of finding a place in a post industrial world. This, of course, is also Baltimore's story. In the many intermediate years of industrial decline, the workforce, the transportation connections and the entire setting declined as well, In Baltimore as well as at Sparrow's Point. This forces the current owners not only to clean up contamination in a consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and remove the wreckage of blast furnaces but to re-build from the ground up. Tomarchio says that there are no really bad pollutants, "just the residue from more than a century of industrial production". The consent decree contains a less benign sounding alphabetical list including  arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, iron, lead, manganese, nickel, tin, ammonia, benzene, cyanide, ethylene glycol, hydrogen cyanide, hydrogen sulfide, naphthalene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls, pentachlorophenol, phenols, pyrene, sodium phenolate, styrene, sulfuric acid, toluene, trichloroethylene, xylene, coal tar, oils, lime sludge, waste alkaline rinses, and mill scale. A 135 page phase 1 report includes more detail. Some of the soils are removed, some are capped, requirements vary by location. In 2014 Tradepoint agreed to allocated $48 million for cleanup.
Lots of infrastructure: Railroad, water treatment plant

One of the challenges: Stormwater. The Maryland Department of the Environment (EPA) has strict standards which are hard to meet with uses that entail huge roofs, impervious truck loading areas and parking lots. About one half of the site is drained via sheet-flow into the Tin Mill Canal, a legacy ditch which served the same purpose already during steel production and which now needs a lot of remedial clean-up. It directs the water into a waste-water treatment plant equipped to deal with oil, fuel and other pollutants that have to come out of the water before it can be released into the Bay.

The #63 MTA bus which already began to loop through the site is no match for the first streetcar that went to the steel plant in 1907. Whatever remaining workforce housing in surrounding communities isn't up to par with current standards. No housing is planned in Tradepoint Atlantic's masterplan. The old water and sewer service is insufficient, in spite of the huge historic user. The distribution centers are simple large warehouses with barely any architecture. But they are filled with the latest in storage technology, logistics software and robots. People are rare in those places where goods are not made but simply stored and assigned destinations, even though right now the Amazon plant is teaming with workers putting the last touches on the facility.
the old power plant in the process of being dismantled

The Tradepoint owners have identified distribution warehousing as the particular niche for this land, the huge nearby population centers, the size of the available property, and the existing land, sea and rail shipping modes made the site destined for it. Distribution is  a hot commodity all along the Atlantic coast, but there is no other site which combines deep water access, interstates and direct railroad access in one centrally located place.

There certainly can be debate whether the economy of distribution warehouses and fulfillment centers is a worthy successor to steel making. The necessary skills are relatively low, so are the wages. Automation will take a further bite out of whatever workforce there is planned for now. A study of the Economic Policy Institute published in February of this year was titled "Unfulfilled promises" and stated that Amazon centers "do not generate broad-based employment".
Two years after an Amazon fulfillment center opens in a county, overall private-sector employment in the county has not increased. It is possible that the jobs created in the warehousing and storage sector are offset by job losses in other industries, or that the employment growth generated by Amazon is too small to meaningfully detect in the data. This finding of no effect is also robust to a series of statistical controls.
Salvaged Bethlehem star waiting for re-use
Thus are the growing pains of the transformation of the region's economy. Asked how Tradepoint will be prepared for a future where production could be decentralized and very local with just in time production in an age of highly customized, low volume, on demand production via 3-D printing, in which large distribution warehouses could potentially become obsolete, Tamarchio is unfazed. We will accommodate the new manufacturing, he responds happily, pointing his fingers to a bunch of future warehouses shown on the masterplan as numbered "logistic centers". "We already have windpower" he says, not meaning installed windmills, but a place where Deepwater Horizon would assemble them, once the agreements about the installation of windfarms in the Atlantic are complete. On site, north of the actual former steel site, already operates a hydropnic greenhouse, a Harley Davidson rider training center is in design, there will also be a 130 acre mixed use shopping center. (So far only a Royal Farm gas station/convenience store has signed on). One can easily see how uses can be adjusted in many ways in this particular new industrial city with its public streets and private railroad.

Baltimore County and the State have tied some $19 million in incentives to the promise of 1,500 jobs at the Amazon center. Additionally Tradepoint has already indicated that they would seek tax increment financing from the County, "it will probably be about $120 million in TIF money", Tomarchio says ( a number that is lower than the public amount of $150 million) and adds when asked about the new County Executive after the upcoming election, "we will try to get the TIF done with the current administration."  The TIF request was made public in July and a document outlining it from Tradepoint's perspective can be found here. Of course, the current  Executive is Tom Mohler who stepped in after the sudden death of Kevin Kamenetz who saw himself as a father of the deal which gave the steel site a new future. The total of $120  million is the total cost of the necessary infrastructure, neatly depicted on a separate map, including roads, sewers, water lines and pumping stations, improved interchanges and enhancements such as bike and walkways.  Some of it has already been constructed. "We expect some reimbursement",  Tomarchio explains. The justification for the TIF to fund infrastructure solely needed for the envisioned businesses, is the economic development it spawns. That number is estimated to be a total of $2.9 billion from direct and indirect economic activity by the Sage Policy Group. Those numbers are always hard to verify.
An inkling of the future. Trucks and more trucks
"To put into perspective the projected impacts of this project, Tradepoint stands to add a full percentage point to gross state product by 2025." (Anirban Basu, 2016)
While economic development is also the reasoning behind the $535 million (plus fees) Port Covington TIF, there no TIF money goes towards the planned Under Armour HQ, Sagamore says. It all goes into what can best be described as a "new town".

For all their differences, Tradepoint and Port Covington have in common that a rich local investor stands behind the respective development vision. With the large amounts of foreign capital sloshing around the globe the question where the money comes from is important. Tomarchio assures it’s all local! The main investor actually lives in Baltimore County he laughs. Redwood, Allegis, Erickson. Jim Davis, the person behind those companies lives in Cockeysville and he is richer  than Kevin Plank but much less in the limelight. (A detailed expose about him can be found in the BBJ). Allegis is the largest private company in Maryland with revenue reaching $11.5 billion in 2016.
The peninsula in context: Right is Millers Island, left the Beltway and
the key bridge

Having once devoted the vast once fertile and lush peninsula to just one business, another mono-culture should be avoided.

Now that the owners of the site have indicated that they would like to have the new infrastructure financed by the public through TIF, Baltimore County should consider a few conditions before they say yes to the request.

There is plenty they could ask for: The almost complete absence of public participation in the determination of the future of Sparrow's Point is somewhat alarming, even though Tomarchio assures that dialogue with nearby communities is well underway.  Owning the property fair and simple, the owners have pretty much unfettered rights to do what  is allowed under zoning as long as they follow the EPA mandated cleanup. But with the TIF, the County could ask for good public access, recreational loops and waterfront promenades, shuttle transit services, use of renewable solar energy on the vast warehouse roofs as a condition of future permits (Amazon apparently considers a retrofit of their completed mega warehouse) and an accelerated payback of the TIF bonds if the peninsula keeps filling up at the current rate. Basu expected in 2016 an annual County tax benefit of $26 million after full build out. This suggests that tax payers would have to foot the TIF bonds for a while, especially since usually not 100% of the additional tax revenues are used for repayment. The TIF request is currently studied by the County's own economic consultant, RKG Associates. County council members reserve judgement until they have seen the analysis.
Masterplan: Top warehouses, bottom: Shipping

Driving back from Sparrows Point the roads are lined with posters for Dundalk's very own Johnny Olszewski and "Hogan endorsed" Al Redmer, ocurrently Insurance Commissioner in Hogan's cabinet, both for County Executive.  It is unlikely that either one will see the miraculous transformation of the former Bethlehem Steel at Sparrows Point much different from Kevin Kamenetz or the current Executive, Tom Mohler,  who had all along expected additional County support for the project. But if Tradepoint's schedule works out, the new Executive won't even be asked.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Links:
A look inside Amazon.com's new Sparrows Point fulfillment center. Business Journal
Amazon offers sneak peek at massive high-tech fulfillment center opening soon at Sparrows Point, SUN
Tour of new Amazon Fulfillment Center, Baltimore SUN video

Previous article on this blog:

Tradepoint Atlantic: Missing an Opportunity? 2016
Megalomania brought steel down and wants to bring it back

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

1000 Friends merge with Preservation Maryland

While the need for smart growth remains undiminished, the 1000 Friends of Maryland, a voice for better and smarter growth since 1994, decided that their work will become more effective by joining forces with Preservation Maryland, a group that has long expanded its preservation advocacy beyond buildings to communities and open space.
"Sprawl costs us all": Smart Growth slogan

In an open letter to members, friends and donors, Executive Director Kimberly Golden Brandt describes the synergy between the two organizations this way:
Preservationists have long made the argument that revitalization of existing communities – and their historic places – is the wisest form of economic redevelopment. When existing communities are revitalized, sprawl is limited. This symbiotic relationship has kept the smart growth and historic preservation communities advocating on each other’s behalf for many years.
Preservation Maryland was one of the founding organizational members of 1000 Friends of Maryland in 1994 and has remained a partner throughout the years by advocating for the policies and programs that make redevelopment of historic communities and protection of open space a reality.
Healthy communities, healthy landscapes: Downtown Frederick
(Photo from Preservation Maryland webpage)
The launch of Smart Growth Maryland will further solidify this already strong relationship. Smart Growth Maryland provides Preservation Maryland with the ability to advocate for an even greater set of policies and programs that make preservation work possible. Alternatively, Preservation Maryland provides the smart growth community a unique partner to advance their common mission and to utilize historic places as a part of an overall smart growth message.
Nicholas Redding, Executive Director of Preservation Maryland issued a similar statement to his members late Wednesday of this week. For board members of 1000 Friends who have been around since the founding of the organization the decision was not easy, especially since 1000 Friends at the intersection of economic development, environmental protection, land use and transportation remained unique throughout the last 24 years. But the proliferation of non-profits for all kinds of cases has also created some kind of donor fatigue and an abundance of organizations vying for the same pot of potential funds. Kimberly Brandt describes this situation in her letter as well:
Competition for limited donor dollars is fierce. Joining forces with allies is a proven way to strengthen the mission of compatible nonprofits. As a result of this merger, both organizations will be stronger and fewer dollars will be spent on overhead and administration, leaving more funds to invest in programmatic work.
1000 Friends of Maryland report cards for County growth policies
For most of the history of the Maryland smart growth organization,  Dru Schmidt Perkins had been the spiritus rector and the face of the organization. Dru was a well known voice in Annapolis and influenced many bills around land use, transportation and environmental protection. She retired from her position in November 2017. Her successor surprised the organization with his decision to return to his home state after a short stint with the 1000 Friends, leaving the long-term financial stability of the organization unresolved. Kimberly Golden Brandt, long the trusted right hand of Schmidt Perkins, stepped up and became the ED. She will remain program director for smart growth after the merger with Preservation Maryland.
Kimberly Golden Brandt, a proven leader remains in charge

1000 Friends sold their headquarters on Calvert Street and will merge the proceeds and other assets with Preservation Maryland where their use will be restricted to the new Smart Growth Maryland Program of Preservation Maryland.
Smart Growth Maryland is administratively and programmatically supported by the staff of Preservation Maryland. Just as Preservation Maryland supports the rest of its programs (Heritage Grants, Six-to-Fix, etc.), the organization provides both leadership and support for Smart Growth Maryland. Preservation Maryland maintains an extremely low overhead rate and invests nearly 90 cents of every donor’s dollar directly into programs. (Preservation Maryland Program website)
The need for strong competency around land use and transportation is obvious with a State administration that is headed by a rural real estate developer who pursues a transportation policy which looks like a throwback to a forgotten past when more highway lanes were considered a solution to congestion and air pollution. (Comments on some of those current highway plans can be made until August 31 here).
Dru Schmidt Perkins at farewell event  in Nov 2017

A new Baltimore area regional transportation plan has been mandated by the State legislature in the msot recent session. Kimberly Golden Brandt who understands the local, the regional and the State land use perspective,  economic development and the intersection of land use, transportation and preservation will remain an important voice in the emerging process, amplified and supported by a much larger and better endowed organization.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Event notification: Big Jump Block Party


Related articles on this blog:
1000 Friends CEO Dru Schmidt Perkins to step down

Monday, August 20, 2018

Self fulfilling prophecy at the Lexington Market

Like the head of a household with spouse and three children who is saving every penny towards a racy two seater Porsche,instead of tending to the oil and spark plugs of his trusted but aging minivan,  the City has neglected Lexington Market and accumulated money in favor of a fashionable glass box to replace the cavernous existing structures on both sides of Paca Street.
Demolition is the wrong answer (Current Eutaw Street facade)

The strategy of declaring the current Market obsolete worth complete demolition instead of seeing it as a jewel to be cherished and kept in ship-shape is now hitting home. The SUN reports that sales dropped 50% after a video showing a rat gnawing on cake in a bakery display case was widely shared. (Lexington Market sees business plunge since rat video).

Just like the Porsche wouldn't accommodate the family, the envisioned modern new 97,000 sf market building wouldn't accommodate all current merchants and likely not serve the current clientele. (The current east and west markets plus arcade represent 178,500 sf.) $17 million have been socked away to date Market Executive Director Robert Thomas told me during a promotional event earlier this year, money that is urgently needed to upgrade the current market. The SUN quotes Council President Young's spokesman Lester Davis describing the effort to maintain the facility while planning for its replacement as “a tricky balance.”

This high wire act is not only tricky, it is foolish. While it sounds reasonable and logical to pursue a rebuild option that leaves the current market in place until the replacement is ready for move-in, the strategy is deadly for the market if years go by to collect the money for a new market . Almost two years later there is still no firm design or timeline when to begin the $40 million new project first presented in 2016.
Fresh fish and fresh fruit: Serving the food desert

The demolition and rebuild plans hover like vultures over the current market which already suffers from a bad image, mostly based on perception and not on reality. If anything, it is the general environment and poor management and merchandising that plagues the market, not the building. The somewhat dumpy building had been visually upgraded some 15 years ago with new signage, additional windows and steel applications on the two sides facing Eutaw and Paca Streets. A 2015 report prepared by the Portland ME firm Market Ventures finds "not feeling safe" as the top reason for not visiting the market, followed by "unclean".  True or not, the rat incident and the unrest of 2015 have boosted those perceptions.
A multi story market won't work: Generic glass box proposed in 2016

The 2015 masterplan envisioned reconstruction of the east market and abandoning the west market for a total cost of then estimated as $26.7 million.

However, in 2016 the City departed from the masterplan in a dramatic way with the suggestion that an all new market building erected to the south of the current arcade and east market would be the way to go.

In February this year the City allocated $250,000 in design funds for the preparation of the design documents needed to build the new market. The initial two story design concept prepared by Murphy Dittenhafer Architects had been sharply criticized by the Baltimore design review panel UDARP for poor circulation and access, especially from Eutaw Street. Most UDARP members have since been replaced. No revised design has been presented since then. While the City has taken the path of private redevelopment on almost all other public Baltimore Markets, Lexington Market is supposed to remain a public market managed and operated by the City.

There is still time to put the plans for a new two story glass-box on hold and focus all efforts on getting the current market to work on par with its brethren around the country.

Even while the building itself isn't terribly charming, there isn't anything that couldn't be fixed for less money than an all new building. No need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. More importantly than cost, the current building deals with the 20' drop from Paca to Eutaw Street in a way that allows equal access from both sides. The sloped floor may not be ideal, but it is by far superior to the escalators, stairways and the two-story configuration proposed for the glass box.
The current  East Market as seen from the gallery

Necessary HVAC and electric upgrades in the current east building don't justify its demolition, nor does the lack of daylight. System upgrades, a set of skylights, better lighting, and new paint would solve those problems.

Beyond basic functions, most needed is a convincing merchandising concept that would ensure a good mix of market specific offerings. The West Market could initially be used as the area where merchants would be relocated during construction and later converted  to an open space as a downtown green plan by Mahan Rykiel once suggested, or it could be opened to become a covered outdoor market similar to the one in Rochester. If the West Market would become a park, the parking lot next to the east market could become an outdoor event space. Ideally, though, it should be a high density redevelopment conceived as transit oritented development right where Metro, Light Rail and buses connect.

Meanwhile go to the Market, buy stuff, help end the loop of self fulfilling prophecy.  You will be pleasantly surprised.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Related on this blog:

Demolish the Lexington Market? (Dec. 2016)
"The approach is costly and the  money for such a radical project is just not there right now. Which doesn't mean it could be there in the future, but in the meantime nobody will invest a thing in the existing market, nobody will fill a vacant stall and those who are there will live in fear whether the new market would be affordable for them or would even have space for them. (It is smaller). How treacherous years of limbo can be to a market could be observed at the Cross Street Market which sits in an affluent area but began to be just a shadow of itself because its future was so unclear. For the approach to be effective it has to happen really soon."
"It would be awfully hard to brand a modern glass structure such as the one shown on the renderings as the oldest market in America. It will also be hard to convey the fondness that many people still have for the current market. Just in October market CEO Thomas wrote me that "we are actually developing our first phase plan to “transform in place” because many DO like the market as it is". 

Is the proposed Lexington Market "divorced from the street level?"  (July 2017)