Bringing campus flavor to Hopkins' neighbors

Redevelopment: Two major projects hold the promise of enlivening Charles Village by bringing a long-sought university ambience to the retail district just off the Johns Hopkins campus.

May 28, 2002|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

With two major redevelopment plans unveiled in a week, many residents of Charles Village hope the community of Victorian townhouses and college students will soon achieve the urban-university ambience they have long sought.

"With a university next door, why hasn't there been a Harvard Square atmosphere?" said longtime resident Grenville B. Whitman, who lives a few blocks from the Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus.

He wondered why the convergence, which has been on drawing boards since at least 1996, hadn't happened sooner. "I may change my mind, but it sounds great," Whitman said.

Mixed-use projects

Hopkins announced Wednesday a plan to build a large bookstore as the anchor for a commercial-residential project on a university-owned parcel on East 33rd Street.

Friday, it was revealed that Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse plans to acquire up to 19 rowhouses for a similar mixed-use project on both sides of the 3200 block of St. Paul St.

"Everyone's talking about it. ... There will be the group of folks that don't like change, even if it's sliced bread, so those of us who want improvement, we have to speak up, too," said Steven Rivelis, a political consultant who organizes the neighborhood's annual June parade.

Residents expressed hope that the university and the private developer will enliven their neighborhood.

"Look at how the two [concepts] overlap," John Spurrier, president of the civic association, said last week. "They'll come up with a retail mix. If I could pick a developer for the 3200 block of St. Paul St., I would choose Struever Bros. because they've demonstrated an appreciation of historic details in projects that are vibrant and lively, something an urban community would appreciate."

Struever Bros., a specialist in "adaptive reuse," converted a former Baltimore cannery in Canton into a retail center.

It is also redeveloping Belvedere Square, an ailing retail complex that was on the verge of condemnation when Mayor Martin O'Malley appealed to the developer to revitalize it.

The plans made public last week are the fruition of a series of planning documents, two of which identified the 3200 block of St. Paul St. as a weak link that should be marked for retail redevelopment.

"In our mind, we didn't want the bookstore to be isolated. All this activity and interest is really reinforcing each party's self-interest, because in commercial real estate, you try to create a critical mass," Alfred W. Barry III, a planner who was commissioned by the Charles Village Community Benefits District in 1995 to draw up a master plan, said last week.

Complement to campus

"Certain forces ... in motion now could result in commercial activity that would complement a university campus," he said.

Some residents of the block of St. Paul Street targeted for redevelopment might not wish to part with the roofs over their heads, said Alice Brock, who owns Images, a card and coffee shop in the 3100 block of St. Paul St.

"They don't want to give up their homes and change the quality of life they've built up over the years," Brock said.

Most of the rowhouses are modest rental properties. One is used as a doctor's office. Struever Bros. has bought five of them since 2000 and is negotiating to buy more.

The prospect of redevelopment gave pause to Hopkins medical librarian David Wright, 25. "I have mixed feeling about stirring up Charles Village, you know. Baltimore knows the pros and cons of gentrification bringing higher property values, having the dynamics shift underneath you but not knowing how things will change," he said.

Dawna Cobb, a Charles Village resident and lawyer, said, "We've been waiting years for new businesses coming to our neighborhood, and it was a big mystery why it wasn't happening."

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