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5 Ways Real Estate Can Boost Baltimore


Building structures that transform a city is about more than making money. It is about adding value that can improve communities, according to speakers at Bisnow's Baltimore State of the Market event last week. They offered five ways in which real estate can improve the city.

1. Invest In Underserved Neighborhoods

Pinkard Properties president Katherine Pinkard, SA+A Development's Ernst Valery and Ballard Spahr partner and moderator Jon Laria

A decade ago, the Station North neighborhood could not compete as a desirable place to hang out on Friday nights or buy property. But significant investment in the neighborhood has resulted in new apartments, offices and restaurants and has changed the perception of the area, developer Ernst Valery said.

His company, SA+A Development, refurbished the Chesapeake building with offices and the Pen & Quill restaurant. Next to the Chesapeake, SA+A is constructing the Nelson Kohl Apartments with 103 units and a yoga studio, an art gallery and a Milk & Honey Market.

Valery encouraged the more than 500 real estate professionals who came to the event to think more like urban planners to "lay the groundwork for change" in Baltimore. And while everyone worries about gentrification, it brings new money to the neighborhood. But what developers want to avoid is displacement, Valery said.

"How do we make it inclusive for people who were there before?" he asked.

The Nelson Kohl Apartments, for instance, will contain mostly market-rate units with up to 20 affordable ones for artists.

"Real estate has to shift its paradigm to care about people," Valery said. "It's not just numbers. Millennials don't just care about money. They care about relationships and making this planet better."

A key selling point for Station North is that the Amtrak station sits at its gateway. But it is crucial that developers use placemaking so the station has a strong identity, Pinkard Properties president Katherine Pinkard said.

Unlike other cities that have capitalized on their historic train stations, Baltimore's Penn Station still is not a spot where Baltimoreans go to grab a drink. Pinkard Properties is part of the development team competing to redevelop Penn Station and the surrounding area.

2. Redevelop The Public Markets

A rendering of the new Lexington Market

Baltimore is sprucing up its public markets with the goal of providing affordable, quality foods that serve their neighborhoods, some of which are located in food deserts, Baltimore Public Markets Corp. director of development Dave O'Donnell said.

The city will start building a new $40M Lexington Market next year, next to the existing one, and has issued bids to redo Hollins Market and Broadway Market. After announcing plans to pull out of Cross Street Market, Caves Valley Partners' plan to overhaul the 170-year-old market is back on the table.

One of the goals of the Lexington Market is to diversify the tenant base with new offerings, including international foods, dairy and produce, rather than supply 13 delis.

"We want to be the best public market in the Northeast," giving Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market a run for its money, O'Donnell said.

3. Get Community Input

Workshop Development partner Dick Manekin and Seawall founding member Donald Manekin

Developers who want to truly invest in the neighborhood should consider what the community needs, Seawall Development founding member Donald Manekin said.

"Get in the car and drive in the neighborhood," Manekin said. Getting community input was key to Seawall's projects in Remington. "We had the opportunity to sit on the stoops with people in the neighborhood and say 'this is your neighborhood.'"

Seawall's Remington projects include the recently developed R. House food hall, Remington Row apartments and Miller's Court, apartments for teachers and nonprofit offices.

4. Think Of Retail As Entertainment

Greenberg Gibbons CEO Brian Gibbons and COPT COO Paul Adkins

Today's business news is filled with reports of retailers shutting their doors as more shopping moves online. In order to compete with the online experience, retail needs to offer entertainment, regardless of whether it is in the city or county.

"We have to give you a reason to come to our projects," Greenberg Gibbons CEO Brian Gibbons said. "We want to make it an experience to come."

The $20M overhaul of the Shops at Kenilworth in Towson is one of Greenberg's latest projects, including anchor Trader Joe's, which debuted to great fanfare last month.

5. Add Street Life

COPT COO Paul Adkins and MacKenzie Capital president John Black

The long-standing vision to transform Pratt Street into a busy thoroughfare akin to Chicago's Michigan Avenue is coming to fruition. COPT is planning a two-story retail and restaurant addition to the Transamerica Tower at 100 Light St., COPT chief operating officer Paul Adkins said.

The focus on Pratt Street is part of the Columbia developer's shift in its portfolio from suburban to urban assets. It also has a $1B plan to transform 10 acres at Canton Crossing.