The Westside Baltimore, Maryland: Advisory Services Panel
December 10, 2010
Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Sponsors: Baltimore Development Corporation; Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, Inc.; Greater Baltimore Committee; University of Maryland, Baltimore; University of Maryland BioPark; the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, Inc.; University of Maryland Medical System; Lexington Market; Maryland Department of Planning; Westside Renaissance, Inc.; France-Merrick Foundation; 1st Mariner Arena; the Abell Foundation; and the Baltimore City Department of Planning
Chair: Glenda E. Hood
Subject Area: Economic Growth and Development, Infrastructure and Transportation
The Study Area and the Panel’s Assignment
Baltimore is one of the United States’ oldest and most historic cities. The port city, founded in 1729, was an important engine of economic growth and trade; by the time of the Civil War, the city was second only to New York City in population. Like many other industrial towns, Baltimore suffered from the country’s post–World War II suburbanization and economic shift from manufacturing to service industries, steadily losing population and significance through the second half of the 20th century. More recently, however, Baltimore has reinvented itself: revitalization efforts have restored the city’s waterfront and historic neighborhoods, and the growth of life sciences, health services, and financial sectors has buoyed the local economy. The city, with abundant cultural amenities, historic character, and an affordable housing market, now stands primed to attract new residents.
Baltimore is also a city of neighborhoods. The city’s vitality can be measured by the strength of these enclaves: Fells Point, picturesque seaport by day and hip dining and entertainment by night; Federal Hill, a neighborhood that escaped the boom-and-bust cycle and preserves the city’s history and has attracted young professionals and families with its active Main Street and nightlife; Mount Vernon, the city’s center for culture and arts; and Harbor East, a former brownfield industrial district transformed into a new neighborhood of upscale boutiques, residences, and restaurants—to name a few. The resurgence of Baltimore’s neighborhoods, many of them historic, was led by strong partnerships between the city and the business community. Baltimore became a pioneer in large-scale urban revitalization, creating a blueprint for other cities on how to restore economic vitality through historic preservation.
Unfortunately, similar success has not taken hold in the Westside neighborhood. The Westside was once the unquestioned retail center of Baltimore, a regional destination anchored by four major department stores. Changing retail patterns and middleclass flight to the suburbs led to its steady decline throughout the second half of the 20th century. Today, the Westside remains seriously challenged by issues of retail vacancy, public safety, and lack of sustainable private investment.
The commitment to Baltimore’s Westside revitalization began ten years ago. Over that time, the private and public sectors have made investments of more than $800 million. Although the Westside’s rebound has trailed similar redevelopment areas in the city, the vision and potential to restore the area to its former glory—albeit in a different form, as a predominantly residential mixed-use neighborhood—remains strong.
The Westside study area is bounded roughly by Charles Street to the east, Pratt and Camden streets to the south, Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard to the west, and Chase Street to the north. The approximately 100-square-block neighborhood is connected to four adjacent and strong submarkets: Mount Vernon and Seton Hill, historic residential neighborhoods; University Center, the academic, research, and institutional center of the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), and University of Maryland BioPark; the central business district (CBD); and a sports and entertainment district, with Camden Yards, M&T Bank Stadium, and the convention center.
The area is home to major downtown employers, medical and educational institutions, arts and cultural attractions, and historic sites. The Westside is well served by transit, with access to the city’s light-rail and Metro subway systems, the free Charm City Circulator, and regular bus service.
The Panel’s Assignment
The city of Baltimore sponsored the ULI Advisory Services panel to examine the Westside neighborhood. The panel was asked to determine how the area can attract new residents and businesses with consideration for its market potential; historic character; access to transportation; arts, retail, and residential uses; open-space potential; and anchor institutions, as well as to address possible implementation strategies. Although the sponsor asked the panel to address many issues, its assignment can be distilled into the following questions:
- What types of uses and density best address the current and future market demands?
- Where are the best areas to achieve a critical mass of activity, and most important, how can this development be implemented?
- What is the future identity of the Westside? What does the city need to do to create a sense of place?