Friday, August 04, 2006

How Baltimore Did Waterfront Redevelopment.

On the way to Chincoteague, the fam and I spend a few days visiting some old friends. One day in Baltimore we hit the aquarium, ate some seafood (trust me on this, get your crabcakes on the Maryland side of the Bay) and hooked up with some college buddies of mine. We got a deal on a tour of the Inner Harbour by taking the water taxi around and having my friends narrate the tour.

One of the frequent refrains about What Cleveland Should Do is that someone needs to do something with the lakefront. And one of the frequent comparisons I hear is Baltimore. Baltimore put up the first throwback baseball-only stadium and they dropped it into their resurgent Inner Harbor area. Maybe it's the temporal proximity of Camden Yards and the Jake, but more than once I've heard folks say "Look what Baltimore did."

I don't begin to claim any understanding of what that would take to develop the lakefront, what the current barriers are, who owns the available properties. But since I hear the comparison, I took some pictures to post a tour for anyone who wants to take it.

As you head out from the Inner Harbor, you pass the Rusty Scupper, one of a number of waterfront bar/restaurant nitespots. An awful lot what's on the waterfront is this sort of entertainment venue.

In the background you can see not one but two construction cranes. I still do a double-take sometimes when I see the construction cranes at Northside Lofts. We just haven't seen new construction like that around Akron in forever.


One crane is putting up a set of Ritz-Carlton condos. Condos on the water is another theme of Balto's waterfront redevelopment. Serious condos with major amendities, access on the water and high-end prices.

And by the way, you can see the row houses in one of the soon-to-be-gentrified working-class neighborhoods that border the harbor frontage.

All of which raises a few concerns. First, does Cleveland have a market for that kind of housing? The sheer volume on the Harbor is amazing. Scores, if not hundreds of units built on the water or in converted industrial buildings. I think not. I think this sort of development doesn't lead economic growth, it follows it.

Ditto the entertainment venues. This also reaches back to the casino/Learn and Earn debate. Mushrooming entertainment complexes seem to me a sign of growth rather than a growth engine. Too much of what we hear about in NEO is entertainment or retail development -- that's another one. Places whose business model is about people spending money on finished product don't seem likely to create real growth. Growth happens when value-added businesses set up shop.

Next stop on the tour is the Domino's Sugar factory. This is still a working factory, though word is that most of the work is done elsewhere and operations are scaling down. Since the factory is one of the enduring landmarks of the city -- the sign by the way is the second-largest neon sign in North America -- the building will be hot property for an office space conversion.


Like the old Tide plant -- now Tide Point, a former Proctor and Gamble factory, now a state-of-the-art office space, complete with an on-site day-care.

Now that's some redevelopment! But again, where is the chicken that laid this egg? Could this have happened without the burgeoning tech economy in the DC suburbs knocking on Baltimore's door?


And of course, the convertable properties have to exist. Warehouses like this one have enough challenges. The sort of heavy industry that built Cleveland carries a whole new set of challenges. Not insurmountable as the AES Building shows, but there are brownfields to clean up, floors to cut through, plenty more I don't know about.

Not to mention the aesthetic challenges. At the risk of getting spammed by fanatical Hullet lovers, I've always wondered if anyone would say out loud that the Hullets are, well, ugly. A warehouse conversion can be funky and attractive. The bones of Cleveland's industrial economy just arent' that attractive.

Toward the end of the tour we find the Marine Bank building -- across from Ft. McHenry, more or less. From here the harbor opens up on its way to being part of the larger bay.

Which raises my final misgiving. Baltimore harbor is a harbor. It is sheltered from the elements in a way the Cleveland lakefront isn't. Not only is the weather milder in Baltimore (though it was hella hot the day we were there), Baltimore doesn't get the full blast of wind coming off a large body of water. I've found myself freezing on summers days on the lakefront. All of which poses an additional layer of challenges to any sort of condo/restaurant/waterfront office development strategy.

No doubt Lake Erie is an asset that Northeast Ohio has underutilized in the days since it's use as byway for large quantities of raw materials to feed our factories. But I suspect that something more needs to happen before developing the waterfront makes sense.

7 comments:

Frank A. Mills said...

As a Baltimore native, I take pride in what the city has accomplished, although the accomplishment is not without its drawbacks -- gentrification being just one. The one point that is often missed when talking about Baltimore's waterfront development is that it began way back in the '60's, and while today both Baltimore & DC's technology/government sectors are driving development in both cities (closer to each other than Cleveland is to Akron)the original Inner Harbor project was envisioned as a tourist generating project, from that project all else sprung. Thus, perhaps the question is, can Cleveland generate enough tourism to expand on the Rock Hall, etc.? Not to forget that Baltimore's tourism industry is year around. Within Baltimore's mix of development, it is only in recent years that the convention center has been expanded -- Baltimore's tourism/conference boom came without a super-duper convention center. However, almost all of the downtown hotels, many of which came with the Inner Harbor, have water views (not one in downtown Cleveland does).

Lastly, Maryland's state government is entirely different than Ohio's. In Maryland the state is quite differently, and the state is quite generous (and there are no casinos). The county government is the bottom-line of everything. Although there are a few "home rule" cities, there power is quite limited. Lastly, Baltimore functions as an Independent City, not part of one of Maryland's 23 counties.

Two last points that need to be considered as we think about Cleveland:

1. Public transit between DC & Baltimore is quite good, as it is within the state and both cities. One fare card, for example, will get you on all trains, light rail, and subways, water taxis (even commuter helicopter) in DC, Maryland, and parts of Virgina. It is easy to commute, say from Baltimore to DC. Plus Baltimore provides incentives to take public transit, bike, or walk to work. Most public transporation in Maryland by the way is run by the state, which also has a stake in DC's Metro.

2. State universities, community colleges, etc. are a bargin compared to Ohio, and the state is generous in helping people with tuition, even guarenteeing an education for all who gualify. There's even aid for attending private colleges within the state.

I think what Baltimore demonstrates is that it is not one thing that makes the system work, but several things coming together. Cleveland/Akron, NEO, and Ohio seem to have a hard time grasping this, let alone making it happen.

Chris Thompson said...

Frank, thanks for the informative addition to Pho's post.

I find Cleveland's lakefront to be a fascinating piece of geography that is widely misunderstood.

Here is an additional point to ponder when wondering why Cleveland's lakefront is "underutilized."

As Pho noted, it can be quite cold on Cleveland's lakefront. That's because Cleveland actually faces west on the lake. Which means it gets the full fury of Great Lakes wind (good for the turbine, bad for tourists and residents). Chicago, Milwaukee, Duluth, and Detroit don't face that problem. Marquette, Buffalo and Cleveland do. Compare the waterfronts of those cities. Geography matters and it cannot be beaten.

I believe geography is the #1 reason Cleveland's waterfront is the way it is, not bad land use. If the marketplace wanted to build on the lake, it would have happened. We need to look long and hard as to why the market has rejected our lakefront before pouring hundreds of millions of dollars trying to persuade the market that it's been wrong all these years.

In contrast, the river has attracted development over the years and now, perhaps, is the time to invest those hundreds of millions that others want to pour into the lakefront to push more residential development on the river, particularly the stretch south of the Wolstein property.

Ohio Democratic Party, Cuyahoga County Field Office said...

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- Ohio Democratic Party, Cuyahoga County Coordinated Campaign

Jamie said...

I've got to disagree with you, Chris. Geography may mean that Cleveland gets damn cold, but what about cities like Minneapolis and Toronto that are actually colder than Cleveland (with Minneapolis being far more cold in the winter time). Is it just the wind that's holding us back? In Minneapolis, the buildings are connected by those little heated walkways. I'm sure they get a little breeze up there in the middle of January, too.

You mention Detroit as an example of a city facing the opposite direction, and I lived there. Detroit is doing worse than us in terms of creating residential neighborhoods and places to hang out downtown. Ask any 20-something in Detroit where they live or party, and you'll hear Pontiac (maybe) and Royal Oak and Ferndale, cities that are miles outside of downtown, nowhere near any water. Cleveland is really ahead of Detroit in this regard right now.

I just don't believe you can blame geography for our lack of development on the lake. First of all, the land we'd want to use is not a bunch of grassy fields. It's in use. Sure, a Donald Trump figure could possibly swing in to town and figure out a way to buy up the port's land and build a bunch of condo towers and a casino (assuming he'd get that passed, too). But right now Cleveland is not a boomtown where people are making these big, risky investments. Our economy is flat, we are losing population, etc.

But that doesn't mean were dead in the windy water, in my opinion. Hey, if Las Vegas and Phoenix can grow like wildfire with hellish summer temps and when they don't even have their own water supply, it seems like we can handle cold winters.

And, finally, my whole thing is, why do we have to grade our progress in terms of condos and office towers? And in this, I can agree with Chris. Put the fancy condos on the river. Open the lake up to everyone and make it a park. There are enough places for wealthy people to buy houses hording our lake views.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the regional approach is best, as demonstrated by Baltimore.

And to provide an incentive to develop property, the city and county should raise taxes on commercial land that's undeveloped or sitting unused. Its a way of rewarding those who invest and build on their own property.

NEOBuckeye said...

I agree with jamie about Minneapolis and Toronto as cities in colder climates than Cleveland/Akron/NEOhio that have still found a way to prosper. Both Minneapolis and Toronto, however, have regional tax-sharing and/or governance structures in place, which have allowed them to take on and execute large scale projects for their respective regions.

Minneapolis, for instance, set up a tax-sharing district that encompasses the city itself, as well as St. Paul and a number of suburbs around the city. Using the tax revenues generated, that region was able to revitalize Minneapolis' downtown district, as well as to foster development of major projects such as the Mall of America. After totally revitalizing Minneapolis' downtown, the regional administration actually began to use tax revenues to fix up aging suburbs.

The way I see it, some sort of regional cooperative agreement or governance is the only way that Cleveland and Northeastern Ohio will ever get anything major accomplished. As it stands now, NE Ohio looks like a broken mirror, with hundreds of small "shards" reflecting a different image of the area. This, while cities like Baltimore, NYC, or newer cities like Charlotte stand united with their surrounding regional area, either through early and visionary political leadership, or by present, unchecked ability to annex their surroundings.

There are so many suburbs squabbling with the central cities, and even amongst themselves for the few and diminishing economic opportunities that are available that Cleveland and NEOhio cannot possibly compete with other regions. For this reason, I hope that something good comes out of the "Voices & Choices" regional initiative.

is to regionalize, pulling together all of the counties, municipalities and townships

joe said...

"Get your crabcakes on the Maryland side of the bay"? As opposed to....the....Maryland side of the Bay?

It's fine if you don't feel the Eastern Shore can compete with Baltimore, in terms of quality seafood available. It's also fine if you're refering to Virginia, though, there is no 'Virginia side' as Virginia borders less than 13% of the Bay.

But if you're going to ask your reader to 'trust' you, a little clarity may go a long way.