Change coming along Southeast waterfront

Apartments, shopping and parking are being developed in Fells Point and Canton

Fells Point

The big dig on South Broadway, between Fleet and Aliceanna streets, where a structure with apartments above shops and underground parking is being built. (Jeffrey F. Bill, Baltimore Sun / May 31, 2013)

There's both energy and change moving along Southeast Baltimore's waterfront in Canton and Fells Point.

It's become the neighborhood boom of 2013, involving more than 800 new apartments and the construction of a shopping plaza along Boston Street in Canton at one-time industrial and commercial locations.

Like Harbor East's surprise transformation a decade ago, the changes in Southeast Baltimore require some touring for learning purposes. It's a story that involves the pushing back of an industrial area plus a tricky piece of cosmetic construction and surgery in a historically protected section of commercial Fells Point.

The midsection of Fells Point along Broadway resembles downtown Baltimore in the early 1960s when it was being disemboweled for urban renewal and the Charles Center construction. Baltimore holds to an entrenched belief that Fells Point must retain an historic ambience. This is a dodgy prescription; the industrial areas (think old wharves and warehouses) make great footprints for buildings but are larger and overshadow Fells Points' quaint interior and its 200-year-old rowhouses.

A pact with developers has permitted portions of bricks, really a thin veneer of masonry and cornices, to be preserved while a larger structure, with apartments above shops and underground parking, fills in behind it. (Steel beams support the historic fragment.)

The heart of the old South Broadway shopping-pub-market-restaurant area has never experienced anything like this big dig, which is best inspected from Bethel Street, between Fleet and Aliceanna.

I await the results. Will the prosperity of Thames Street be pushed up and along Broadway where it will meet the historic market houses? On a hot midday this week, shoppers fearlessly walked under the towering crane that lifted the concrete bucket for this urban balancing act.

A few months ago, I had a Saturday night supper at the Of Love and Regret Tavern in Brewers Hill, a neighborhood east of Fells Point and Canton. Perhaps it was because I felt I was the oldest diner in the jumping place, but I came to realize how seamlessly Baltimore has marketed itself to people 40 years my junior. The Hanover Brewers Hill apartments along O'Donnell and Toone streets have signs promoting leases. A year ago this was a full-tilt construction zone; weeks ago the new sidewalks and the street trees were ready.

I appreciated the manner by which the historic and established neighborhoods are accommodating this change. The traditional Highlandtown and Canton rowhouse streets (think Foster or Curley) — the kind of thoroughfares native Baltimoreans consider classic Southeast Baltimore — appeared trim, clean and prosperous the afternoon I spent trying to catch up on the Southeast Baltimore spring revival. It's not a question of one section prospering while another declines.

In October 2012, Wells Obrecht and his team took me through the former Gunther's Brewery. I was then aware that it was headed for conversion to apartments, but the place seemed as if there was a long road ahead. This spring, it is easy to envision new tenants and their moving-in trucks.

And it will also be a plus to have a pub or dining area in the boiler house of a real Baltimore brewery. The old brewery was once served by teams of horse-drawn delivery wagons and rail freight cars full of hops. Nearby busy trains remind me that Southeast Baltimore is not all studio apartments yet.

Perhaps the biggest news here would be the oldest if this were the suburbs. New shopping areas and major retailers have been elusive in Baltimore. The arrival of a Target, Old Navy and other nationally known stores at The Shops at Canton Crossing comes as a novelty to a city that has been shortchanged in this area. The brick walls for shops and a Harris Teeter are rising, along with that coveted urban amenity, the parking space.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

 

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