Hopkins dorm opens, igniting renewal hopes

Complex is key element of Charles Village project

September 04, 2006|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,Sun reporter

Though she had hoped for a bit more space, sophomore Jess Buicko nonetheless pronounced her 100-square-foot bedroom in the new Johns Hopkins University residence hall "4 million times better" than her freshman digs on the Homewood campus.

The 18-year-old Albany, N.Y., native was one of more than 600 college sophomores and upperclassmen moving yesterday and today into the $60 million Charles Commons, a two- tower complex at St. Paul and 33rd streets in Charles Village.

The university's first dorm for upperclassmen is the first of three adjacent mixed-use projects in the North Baltimore neighborhood that officials hope will transform a sleepy redoubt into a vibrant "college town" - and address undergraduate dissatisfaction with Hopkins college life, rising town-gown tensions and street crime.

FOR THE RECORD - In an article in Monday's Sun about a new dorm and other development near the Johns Hopkins University, the name of Paula Burger, dean of undergraduate education, was misspelled.

Marketed as Village Commons by lead developer Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse, the $170 million development includes the dorm towers, two high-end condominium projects currently under construction, more than 50,000 square feet of street-level shops and restaurants, and a new parking garage with nearly 400 spaces for the public.

The project will be anchored by a two-story Barnes & Noble bookstore, containing a Starbucks cafe, scheduled to open at the end of October in the dorm complex. The new store will replace a much smaller bookstore in the basement of a classroom building on campus.

Hopkins students yesterday greeted the prospect of Starbucks coffee with more a sense of entitlement than enthusiasm.

"This is probably the only nook of the world that doesn't already have a Starbucks," said sophomore Sarah Ratzenberger of Westchester County, N.Y.

Soon, it will have two.

In addition to the in-store cafe, the Seattle-based coffee retailer will open a stand-alone shop less than a block south, on the street level of the 68-unit Village Lofts condo building, according to Jamie Lanham, head of Struever Bros.' commercial real estate division.

That building will also house a Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant, a Coldstone Creamery ice cream shop, a Cloud 9 clothing store, a locally owned stationers and the reincarnation of a convenience store displaced by construction, to be called University Gourmet.

An additional 15,000 square feet of retail space will open up across the street, at the base of the 107-unit Olmsted condominium building, scheduled for completion in early 2008, according to a spokesman.

The only confirmed retail tenants in that building are a Royal Farms convenience store and a florist shop, but Struever Bros. development director, Joshua Nieman, said the company was working to attract a wine bar at one corner, and a "bistro-type restaurant" at the other.

Though Charles Village has a reputation for jealously protecting its quirky, iconoclastic image of "painted lady" Victorian rowhouses and bohemian edge, the mood on the street among students, residents and veteran Charles Village merchants was mostly supportive of national retail chains and upscale shopping options.

"It's fantastic," said Eli Sendelman, 21, an art history major from New York City. "I think it's good to gussy up the neighborhood a little bit. Not too much, but it needs a kick, a swift kick."

When he arrived in Charles Village three years ago, Sendelman said he "didn't understand why the main drag, as it were, was so dismal. Why couldn't they have a little [Harvard Square] going on around here?"

Jerry Gordon, owner of the Eddie's of Charles Village market, said he welcomed the competition from other food-service businesses. "I think it's great. I've been waiting for this for a long time," said Gordon, whose family has operated the store since 1962. "I don't know why it took so long."

Paula Berger, Hopkins dean of undergraduate education, said impetus for action partly came from a 2002-2003 university commission she chaired that found deep discontent among undergraduates about their residential and social lives.

Among the commission's findings was that undergraduates lacked spaces to socialize, shared few traditions other than cutthroat academic competitiveness, and often felt like second-class citizens in a university whose national reputation was largely made on the strengths of its graduate programs in medicine, science and engineering.

"Plenty of evidence suggests that improving residential and social life can go a long way toward breaking an endemic culture of competitiveness and complaint," the Commission on Undergraduate Education said in its final report.

By 2003, institutional and private investment in "college town" projects was a national trend, as the economic desirability of universities as neighborhood anchors was becoming clear, said Randy Ruttenberg, a principal in Fairmount Properties, a Cleveland-based developer of such projects.

Among widely mentioned college-town success stories is a 1998 hotel-and-bookstore development at the University of Pennsylvania that has spawned a robust commercial district next to campus.

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