New development aims to knit former industrial site into Baltimore's thriving waterfront
The Architects Newspaper
May 17, 2010
The shoreline around Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is well known for its bustling urban life, but
just a mile away lies a body of water with three times the area and none of the
development. The Middle Branch waterfront, a shallow estuary south of the Inner Harbor,
is an industrial-zoned brownfield dotted with old factories and power plants and cut off
from the rest of the city by a highway, a park, a bridge, and some CSX rail tracks.
But when a struggling Middle Branch glass company finally went bankrupt in 2004, local
developer Pat Turner saw an opportunity. He purchased the company to get access to its
land, and then convinced the city to rezone the neighborhood from industrial to mixed-use
as he gradually bought up other privately owned parcels. A longtime South Baltimore
resident, Turner had a familiarity with the neighborhood and, more to the point, a stake in
it, as most of his prior work is clustered nearby. across New York City.
Dubbed Westport Waterfront, the project is unusual for more than one reason. Its size
alone is unprecedented in Baltimore, a 52-acre site that will include 4.8 million square feet
of mixed-use development, with 2,000 residential units, two hotels, 300,000 square feet of
retail, and a possible soccer arena, an estimated $1.2 billion all told. While other
waterfront developments have a hard time attracting public transit because they are not
sufficiently dense, the Westport site already has a light rail stop at its center. Turner plans
to use that station as the seed of a dense multimodal network, including wide sidewalks
and a link to the city’s bike trail.
Currently, the development team is constructing two thousand linear feet of wetlands
along the shoreline using federal stimulus money. By fall, they will be starting on
Westport’s streets and public spaces by local design company Parameter and
Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects, based on a multi-density masterplan by Field
Operations. “Field Operations’ low-rise scheme yielded some interesting townhouses and
lowrise condos, which we incorporated into the site,” said Chris Pfaffle of Parameter. “The
high-density one had too much density, but we took its verticality and organization around
a main boulevard.”
Perhaps the most unusual thing about Westport is its scant opposition. To help fund
infrastructure on the site, Baltimore issued the largest Tax Increment Financing plan in
the city’s history, in anticipation of a sharp rise in property taxes from the current $93,000
per year to the estimated $43 million they will take in once the site is fully developed.
For their part, the adjacent Westport community is enjoying the attentions of Turner, who
has been reaching out by planting trees and hiring locals to clean up the waterfront. The
development will above all mean new access to the waterfront, which for 120 years has
been privately owned and blocked by warehouses and factories. “They’ve lived in the
shadows of smokestacks for many years,” Turner said.
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