Market envisioned for 1,000 more homes downtown 5-year projection may be too low, one businessman thinks

Real estate

October 07, 1998|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

An economic development consultant has concluded that demand for housing in downtown Baltimore is strong enough that 1,000 additional residential units could be filled there over the next five years.

Clifton Henry, vice president of Hammer Siler George and Associates, told a meeting convened by the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore that the projected demand for 1,000 residences is one of the preliminary findings of a report on the central business district that his firm and others are preparing for release early next year.

Henry also said his group's economic analysis indicates that there is an immediate demand for another 94,500 square feet of retail space along the 200 to 500 blocks of North Charles St. and another 67,000 square feet of retail space elsewhere in the central business district -- the equivalent of three standard grocery stores.

The consultants believe there is a market in the central business district for another 150,000 to 200,000 square feet of office space annually for the next six to seven years.

The $180,000 marketing study was commissioned earlier this year by the Downtown Partnership and covers a 35-block area bounded roughly by Lombard Street on the south, Liberty Street on the west, Saratoga Street on the north and South Street and Guilford Avenue on the east. It also encompasses the 200 to 500 blocks of North Charles St.

The preliminary findings were presented yesterday during a forum at the Johns Hopkins University's Downtown Center.

Jimmy Rouse, a local businessman and artist who has been leading an effort to rejuvenate North Charles Street, said he believes that the housing and office space projections are too low.

He said he knows of one retailer who is looking for 45,000 square feet of space along the Charles Street corridor -- almost half the total projected by Hammer Siler George. He also suggested that the demand for housing is likely to go beyond 1,000 units as new housing comes on the market and people move into the area.

"Cleveland is adding 1,000 units a year," he told Henry during the public meeting. "Your numbers should be dynamic, not static."

Henry said he agreed that the numbers could eventually go higher but he wanted to give a realistic figure based on a recent survey of downtown office workers and other information his team has compiled.

He said many downtown office workers have indicated that they would be willing to live in the central business district if they could buy townhouses there, but most of the new housing is likely to be for rent.

The Charles Street corridor has many vacant storefronts at present, but leasing experts say today's prospective retailers typically look for spaces that are bigger than the ones currently available -- pointing to the need for new construction or reconfiguration of existing floor plans.

Henry added that he agrees that the demand for housing and retail space is likely to change as people's perceptions of the area change.

"I believe that economics is as much psychological as it is statistical analysis," he said. "To the extent that we change people's perceptions about the downtown, we can increase the demand" for space downtown.

The Downtown Partnership asked Hammer Siler George and other consultants to use the market projections to develop a strategic plan for rejuvenating the central business district.

The next public meeting on the planning process will be held in the Johns Hopkins University's Downtown Center, Charles and Saratoga streets, at 1: 30 p.m. Nov. 18.

The strategic plan "will be a working blueprint that not only sets the game plan for economic growth in the central business district but also identifies activities to facilitate that growth, said Partnership President Laurie Schwartz. "Once implemented, it will help usher in the downtown of the 21st century."

Others working on the study include Design Collective, an urban design consultant; O. R. George Associates, a traffic consultant; Betty Bird and Associates, a historic preservation consultant; and Carol Brown, a cultural consultant.

Pub Date: 10/07/98

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