Untapped Opportunities in the City

November 27, 1993

Interesting things are happening in Baltimore City.

Item: Home Depot, after ringing Baltimore with suburban hardware warehouse stores, has decided to cross the city line. It has assembled a 10-acre tract on Eastern Avenue, near the I-95 ramp, and intends to open a new home improvement center there by next November. The rapidly growing chain, which is locked in a duel with another hardware giant, Hechinger's, reportedly is looking for other possible city sites, too.

Item: An unidentified national supermarket chain hopes to build a store on a cleared portion of the American Can property, along Boston Street in Canton. The 9.3-acre site was once eyed for a $52 million shopping center that was strangled by neighborhood opposition.

Item: The Ryland Group of Columbia, which made its name as a highly successful suburban developer nationwide, plans to launch its first market-rate Baltimore City project in Federal Hill. Its 42-unit development at Montgomery and Charles streets would consist of three-story, 1,600-square-foot brick townhouses with garages selling in the $140,000 to $160,000 range.

Item: Several leading residential developers are currently scrambling to win rights from the city to build about 100 townhouses on the site of the old Koppers foundry, between Barre Circle and the B&O Railroad Museum.

These examples illustrate two points. The sky-is-falling fears of the recession are gradually evaporating. And while Baltimore City's future prospects may be uncertain in many ways, the city continues to offer much promise to those who can successfully define their niche.

The Ryland Group's Federal Hill project is a case in point. By mixing features typically found in "historic" houses with those of a suburban home, the company hopes to appeal to professionals who want a city lifestyle but do not want to renovate an old home. They will be able to live in a historic area but without time-consuming upkeep.

This kind of niche-targeting is increasingly important in Baltimore, a city of extremes. In the past, its high concentration of poor people led to the flight of many downtown stores and services catering to higher-income families. But the boutiques of the Gallery at Harborplace are doing well, as are many classy restaurants.

Despite the unsettled economic climate, some quality merchandisers are looking at the city with renewed interest. Baltimore's socio-economic characteristics make many types of retailing a gamble. But businesses that have the guts to try are increasingly surprised at how successful they can be.

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