Westport may become the new Inner Harbor and Harbor East
When many Baltimoreans and tourist look out over that body of water we call the Inner Harbor, the first thing that comes to their mind is the Chesapeake Bay is somewhere out there in the distance. Most do not look at the harbor as the Northwest Branch of the Patapsco River. However, all that is about to change. Developers are in the process of introducing everyone to all the different areas of the Patapsco – especially the Middle Branch.
The Middle Branch is the forgotten section of the river that some of you remember from playing in your SOBO Sports Leagues down at Swann Park. Many of you have driven over it when taking the Hanover St. Bridge to Nick’s Fish House. And some of you have seen it off in the distance when shopping at the Wal-mart in Port Covington. In other words, it is big. It links the neighborhoods of Westport and Cherry Hill to the Inner Harbor.
In our current economic situation, it may not seem logical to undertake a project of revitalizing an area that has been considered an industrial wasteland for at least the last fifty years. In fact, BG & E and the Baltimore Sun attempted in the 1980s to do just that in Westport and Port Covington respectively. Neither plan was successful. However, the last decade (the 00s) changed the dynamics of the playing field. First, the city saw the changing demographics in the waterfront neighborhoods of South Baltimore. Yuppies, Buppies, and any other young professional group with a label became residents of Canton, Fells Point, Federal Hill and Locust Point.
Developers developed everything they could until the City said you can’t develop in those neighborhoods any longer. There was a need for more waterfront property.
Secondly, the Gwynn Falls Trail was completed in 2005. This may be one the best kept secrets in the city. The Trail begins at I-70 and follows the Gwynn Falls stream to the Middle Branch and finally into the Inner Harbor. It is 15 miles of hiking and biking trails and 2,000 acres of woodland wilderness parks.
A foundation has been laid where there is a demand for waterfront property with a new concept of country living near downtown.
Now to proceed with this type of undertaking would seem a little too ambitious in the midst of the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression. That might be true except that the first die was cast nearly 7 years ago. The name Pat Turner may sound familiar to some if you live downtown. It was his Turner Development Corporation that just completed the Silo Point project in Locus Point a few years back. Now since 2003, he has been buying property and wooing the community of Westport. He accomplished this by integrating his company and himself into the community rather than waging war against it. It seems to have worked.
Turner has begun the first phase of his anywhere between $1.2 to $1.4 billion Westport waterfront endeavor. The project is expected to include 3 million square feet of office space, three hundred thousand square feet of retail space, two thousand residential units, and 500 hotel rooms. Turner stated to the City Paper’s Tom Chalkley back in 2006 “We’re selling a lifestyle,” he says. “It’s an urban neighborhood, but it’s going to feel like a mini Chesapeake Bay.” Chalkley also wrote, “Working with a team of environmental-minded architects and landscape designers, Turner says Westport will be “a model for the country” in the way it reconfigures the post-industrial waterfront.
Runoff from paved surfaces be channeled into “bio-swales”—catchment areas that filter water into the soil instead of pouring it into storm drains. Along the Carr-Lowrey frontage, which abuts a protected heron rookery, the Turner team intends to create a wetland planted with native vegetation. “It’ll look phenomenal,” he gushes.”
This is a project I think we all need to follow for the next couple of years. It may present opportunities, or just some excitement, or maybe a little Baltimore pride (Hey Hon!). Anyway you look at it, I think it will be good for all of us.
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