Resurgent City Raises Its Skyline And Its Profile

November 16, 2008|By JACQUES KELLY | JACQUES KELLY,jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

The new harborside Morgan Stanley building reminds me of just how much Baltimore invested in - and was changed by - the relaxed credit and available money of the past financial cycle. The highly visible structure now going up on an eastern tip of Fells Point is one of the dozens of projects conceived and executed during this boom decade.

Look around Baltimore and observe the physical legacy of the Alan Greenspan-Freddie Mac economy.

The results of the available credit-construction building boom are so evident along Key Highway, at Silo Point in Locust Point and Harbor East. The financial good times also helped the University of Maryland and its extensions in West Baltimore. The might of the Johns Hopkins medical campus seems to lift East Baltimore.

There are now sizable apartment houses at 414 Water St. and near Camden Yards at the Zenith.

You could close and open your eyes on the Harbor East and think you are in Manhattan. The new Legg Mason and Four Seasons structures are rising floor by floor, weekly. I was taken aback at the un-Baltimore array of luxury goods, the $400 shoes and handbags offered for sale at the new Aliceanna Street shops.

But let's get past the high-profile addresses, the ones with fancy press openings and their own Web sites.

What often catches me off my guard are the places that sat derelict and empty for years, and in the past couple of months took off with little or no fanfare, other than the noise of construction hammers and cement trucks. When the money trickles down this far, into the somewhat lower-profile areas, Baltimore has changed well beyond the spots that claim a view of the harbor.

My bellwether indicators would be the Brexton Apartments on Park Avenue, where workers are installing new windows in one of Mount Vernon's longest holdout properties. The Brexton is a natty Victorian apartment house with a pack of thorny preservation issues that's made it stand empty for decades.

Not far away the old Medical Arts Building is rapidly becoming apartments. As promised, the Marie Louise Bistro opened in the old Gampy's site on Charles Street, ending a decade of vacancy.

Excavation work was commenced on the Fitzgerald, a complex of apartments and shops at Mount Royal and Oliver just north of the Lyric, suggesting that proximity to Penn Station is now regarded as an asset. Also near the station are the Printers Square, Railway Express and 1209 N. Charles complexes.

And let's not forget how grand the old BGE Building on Lexington Street looks now that it has been turned into apartments.

The old Federal Land Bank Building at St. Paul and 24th streets is also under renovation, as is the Miller Building at Howard and 26th streets.

The easy mortgage money of these recent years also made its way into places that lenders often avoided - or appraisers assigned low values. Reservoir Hill, near Druid Lake, is a very different neighborhood today than it was in the 1980s and 1990s. The greater Mondawmin area is ahead. Mortgage money flowed into Hamilton, Lauraville, Waverly, Ednor Gardens, Pigtown, and Woodberry and its remarkable Clipper Mill. Now industrial Westport seems poised for a redevelopment.

These neighborhoods might not rate the press notices of a Spinnaker Bay or Crescent on the harbor. But their revival suggests the city has latched onto a solvency beyond the tourist zone.

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