Homes, offices and shops would sprout around Baltimore's Penn Station under a preliminary plan developed for Amtrak for the midtown site.
The national passenger railroad tapped Beatty Development, the Baltimore-based developer responsible for Harbor East and Harbor Point, late last year to create a master plan and lead the redevelopment of about seven acres of underused land around the century-old train station.
Beatty Development's vision calls for the construction of up to 1.5 million square feet of new residences and commercial space at a cost of about $500 million over the next decade.
"Station North is an amazing area," said Michael L. Ricketts, vice president of development for Beatty Development, which Amtrak selected through a competitive process. "It just needs investment. Investment around the train station, a transit link, will spill into North Avenue and the whole neighborhood. It is transformational for Baltimore."
The master plan shows housing on a parking lot north of the station bordered by North Charles, Lanvale and St. Paul streets. Two office buildings would rise, one with ground-level shops across Charles Street from the station and the other across St. Paul Street.
Developers envision a canopy soaring over the station's platform, creating a visual connection between the train station and the new development. Beatty Development also would renovate the upper three levels of the station, possibly for office space, Ricketts said.
Whatever is ultimately built would depend on market demand and available financing, Ricketts added. And what Amtrak wants.
Amtrak, which owns most of the property, now will take the Beatty plan and develop a strategic plan for the station that will also examine the station's short- and long-range needs for high speed, intercity and commuter rail. Amtrak's ridership in Baltimore grew 8 percent in its fiscal year ended Sept. 30.
An Amtrak official declined to comment on the master plan, saying in an email that the rail operator is just starting the planning process.
"At this early stage, Amtrak and our partners are focused on developing a viable plan for Baltimore Penn Station that incorporates the growing transportation needs of the region and creates dynamic and vibrant development opportunities that will benefit the community as a whole," Stephen Gardner, vice president of northeast corridor infrastructure and investment development, said in the email.
Amtrak has been looking at ways to maximize revenue from its underused station properties for years. In Philadelphia, Amtrak leased land across from 30th Street Station to a developer that built a 28-story office tower that opened in 2005.
Similar planning is under way for Amtrak's Union Station in Washington, D.C. A 20-year master plan released last summer proposes station improvements to triple passenger capacity and create a new urban neighborhood with public plazas, shops, hotels, offices and residences.
Amtrak has spent about $7 million over the past three years improving Penn Station, it's eighth-busiest station, installing new concourse windows, ceiling tiles, lighting and an electronic train information board. An additional roughly $1 million in upgrades are planned this year, including restroom renovations, painting, landscaping and a new video-enabled Visit Baltimore welcome sign.
Baltimore officials view Penn Station as a key access point into the city. It's not only served by Amtrak, but by the state's MARC commuter train service.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake formed an advisory committee last year to come up with ideas to improve the rail corridor leading into the city with clean-up and "greening" projects and to encourage Amtrak to improve Penn Station.
"I think it's absolutely fantastic," said Kaliope Parthemos, the city's deputy chief of economic and neighborhood development, of the development plans. "It provides the transit-oriented-development that site needs."
High-density, mixed-use development close to mass transit has become a new model for planners in Baltimore and elsewhere seeking to spur redevelopment while easing suburban sprawl and traffic.
In the Baltimore area, which has largely unconnected systems of commuter bus and rail service, such projects have been slow to take hold. For example, Metro Centre in Owings Mills, where apartments, offices and shops are being built near a Metro station, is still a work in progress.
City and community leaders see the Penn Station project as crucial to the developing Station North district.