MASSIVE CITY PROJECT IS TAKING SHAPE
The Daily Record
As if his plan to turn an industrial waterfront in Southwest Baltimore into a “second downtown” was not grand enough, developer Patrick Turner thinks a new velodrome would be the perfect capstone to that project.
A velodrome is an arena with banked tracks made specifically for bicycle racing, best known for its function in Olympic contests. Amatures can ride public tracks for recreational purposes, but relatively few such arenas exist in the United States.
If Turner has his way however, Baltimore will get one. He wants to build a velodrome as part of the massive project he is planning on the shores of the Middle Branch, a finger of the Patapsco Rive just two miles south of the Inner Harbor.
Turner said the arena would bring a new sports culture to the city and even help it compete as a host for future Olympic Games. The arena would also be an amenity for the thousands of new residents Turner sees flocking to his project.
“This is a lifestyle community,” said Turner, president of Turner Development Group, which until this month went by the name Henrietta Development Corp. “The emphasis is a pedestrian, biker-friendly feel.”
Turner has been planning his Middle Branch development for more than a year, buying up properties such as the old Carr-Lowrey glass factory, which has since been demolished. He now controls more than 30waterfront acres near the city’s Westport neighborhood.
In the next six to 10 years, Turner intends to have built an approximate 2,000 homes, a hotel, 500,000 square feet of retail space and, 2.5 million square feet of office space, anchored by a 65-story tower. Pulte Homes and other national builders have expressed interest in partnering on the housing development, although no deals have been finalized, Turner said.
“There is a lot of enthusiasm about this,” Turner said.
The velodrome fits Turner’s vision of the Middle Branch project as one that incorporates outdoor attractions. The development would include a 5.5 mile hiking and biking path, restored wetlands and a beach along the waterfront. A public park already exists adjacent to the land Turner controls.
“Even though it’s and urban neighborhood, it feels very suburban,” Turner said. “it’s for living, working and playing.”
The velodrome would appeal to the core demographic of residents Turner hopes to lure to his project, urban professionals who lead active lifestyles. Turner also homes to woo that crowd with the light rail stop that already exists at his development site, providing easy access to downtown and the MARC train to Washington.
Transit-oriented development is becoming the standard for urban dwellers, according to Bob Dunphy, senior resident fellow for transportation and infrastructure at the Urban Land Institute in Washington.
“Residents crave urban living with all of the amenities available in the suburbs,” Dumphy said. “They will want to have all those amenities, bike trails and parks and so forth.”
A velodrome, however, appeals to a somewhat narrower audience. But Turner thinks that audience is out there.
“There are a lot of bike enthusiasts in the Baltimore-Washington area,” he said.
Indeed, the Baltimore Bicycling Club boasts 1,500 members, according to President Frank Anders.
While much of the club’s activity is limited to outdoor trails, there is a contingent that likes watching or participating in bike races. Anders himself occasionally drives to a velodrome on Pennsylvania to bike.
“At first thought, it seems a little peculiar,” Andres said of a plan to build a velodrome in Baltimore.
“But I think it would probably draw a fair number of people,” he said. “I know I would go.”
Whether the velodrome would help Baltimore compete to host future Olympics Games is a different story. The city, in partnership with Washington, lost a bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games to London.
But “the lack of a velodrome did not in the least hurt our region’s bid for the Olympic Games,” Clarence Bishop, Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley’s chief of staff, wrote The Daily Record in an e-mail last week.
“There are very, very few cities with velodromes,” Bishop said.
Otis Rolley III, director of the city planning department, called Turner’s velodrome plan “an interesting proposal.”
“We are in agreement that that area should be open space and public space,” Rolley said. “But there are questions about whether a velodrome would work.”
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