The long-discussed redevelopment of Baltimore’s Penn Station and nearby Amtrak properties took a major step forward Thursday with the selection of a group of mostly Baltimore-area firms to lead the massive project.
The national passenger railroad said it is negotiating exclusively with Penn Station Partners, which includes Beatty Development, Armada Hoffler Properties, Cross Street Partners and Gensler, among others, for a master development deal that could result in up to 1.6 million square feet of retail, residential and office development in a five-acre area around the century-old station.
The project could bring the kind of transit-oriented development that lawmakers have long sought to attract new residents, especially young commuters priced out of the Washington, D.C., rental market, while bolstering redevelopment in Station North with much-needed retail.
“This development is a historic opportunity for Amtrak and Penn Station Partners to bring to life a bold future for Penn Station, generating jobs and sustained economic opportunities for our Baltimore communities and beyond,” Mayor Catherine Pugh said in a statement.
Preliminary plans call for the upper floors of the historic station house to be renovated and converted into a hotel. The main level would get modern updates and new amenities, such as additional retail vendors.
A new concourse would be built across the tracks in what is currently a parking lot along Lanvale Street, to accommodate anticipated growth in ridership, said Brian Traylor, an infrastructure planning manager with Amtrak.
Baltimore Penn Station is Amtrak’s eighth-busiest. While it currently has enough capacity, Amtrak expects ridership along the Northeast corridor to double by 2040.The railroad also expects the state to expand MARC commuter rail services, which will further stretch Penn Station’s capacity, Traylor said.
Beyond the station, the plan includes apartments, offices and retail space on neighboring Amtrak properties, though details are still to come.
For developers, the project offers a chance to build in a part of town where city leaders and developers see significant opportunity for attracting newcomers, while putting a shine on one of the city’s iconic buildings.
“There’s this whole sense of entry to Baltimore, culminating in the station,” said Bill Struever, principal of Cross Street Partners. “We’re eager to take this greeting to Baltimore and make it wonderful.”
Tim Pula, Beatty’s vice president of community development, said a mixed-use development could tap into growing demand for rental housing from commuters priced out of Washington, D.C.
A one-bedroom apartment costs, on average, about $800 more in D.C. than in Baltimore, according to Rent Cafe, a national internet listing service.
“There’s a great market there and a great opportunity for Baltimore,” Pula said. “We’re excited to help create something there that cold really build upon that.”
The project would add to revitalization efforts in Station North. The area has seen a development boom in recent years, with new apartments, a renovated Centre Theatre and more projects on the way.
A new 103-unit apartment overlooking Penn Station’s Lanvale Street parking lot is expected to open to its first tenants in late February, said Ernst Valery, founder and president of SAA | EVI Development, the developer of the property dubbed Nelson Kohl.
Redeveloping Penn Station will bolster the neighborhood by expanding retail offerings in an area where much of the development has focused on residential properties, he said.
“When people come to Baltimore and they experience Baltimore — not just what they see on the news — when they truly experience Baltimore, they’re going to want to be here,” Valery said. “It can only help when we add more residential units and amenities.”
Pugh said she thinks a vibrant retail center and new housing at Penn Station could spur even more development in the area. “If you look around there,” Pugh said, “it’s such a great opportunity to expand economic development.”
The station’s redevelopment has been a long time coming. Amtrak has been working with developers around the country to redevelop its stations and other property it owns, most notably in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.
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The plan never took off, but in 2016 Amtrak again sought bids for the master development deal and Beatty-led Penn Station Partners was one of three groups named finalists.
Business and political leaders who pushed for the project over the years commended Amtrak for moving forward.
“I am confident that this team, which is comprised of local Baltimore businesses, understands how urgent the redevelopment of Penn Station is to the City of Baltimore,” Rep. Elijah E. Cummings said in a statement. “This team brings the expertise essential to ensuring that the full potential of this resource is finally tapped to support economic growth and revitalization.”
Greater Baltimore Committee President and CEO Don Fry said in a statement that Penn Station is “overdue for a major update.”
“It is a gateway to the city and can be a tremendous asset for Mid-Town,” Fry said. “Also, innovative development of the adjacent land has the potential to turn the entire emerging area into a magnet for new economic, cultural and social activity — and jobs.”