Watching the transformation around Baltimore in 2013

I used Russell Street to get to BWI this fall for a vacation. I made a mental note of the progress of the new Horseshoe Casino when I left. About 14 days later, the construction seemed to have doubled. Certainly the construction of this casino ranks as one of the highlights of change in Baltimore this past year.

Some well-established neighborhoods saw substantial, but subtle advances in 2013. Not as obvious as the casino, an aged commercial core of Fells Point at Broadway, between Aliceanna and Fleet streets, emerged this year. This job was a very big dig in a fragile historic environment. The old shops along Broadway were stripped down to a thin shell of brick, then wholly reconstructed for new apartments, a garage and shops.

In 2014, we'll see what new businesses arrive here. I hope it turns out as happily as a similar effort at 1209 N. Charles near another 2013 dazzler, the John and Frances Angelos University of Baltimore School of Law. This amazing structure illuminates the northern end of the Mount Vernon neighborhood and has already created new energy along Mount Royal Avenue.

I often take the Charles Street route home at night. When I get to the blocks around this law school, I think: Is this the same sleazy neighborhood of the 1970s, when an outpost of The Block was trying to overtake the place?

The kind of national retail shopping usually reserved for Baltimore's suburbs arrived on Boston Street at Canton and Brewers Hill. This mall caught people's attention, but what I see in this neighborhood is the arrival of more than 600 new living units positioned around the old breweries — both National Bohemian and Gunther's. This is a mix of renovation and new construction for market-rate apartments.

Not so far away, what had been a Wolfe Street concrete plant had a debut this year: It's now a large apartment residence called Union Wharf.

A pair of major buildings in two city parks received loving work this year. The Parks and People Foundation reclaimed the old Druid Hill Park superintendent's residence and treated it to an extensive makeover — not a moment too soon. And on a rainy day in July, I climbed from basement to cupola of Clifton Park's mansion. Civic Works had removed intrusive partitions (it was once the park's golf clubhouse) to reveal the beauty of the one-time home of Henry Thompson and Johns Hopkins.

Architect Kathleen Lechleiter performed a transformative miracle at the old Bachrach house and sculpture studio on Linden Avenue in Reservoir Hill. For years, I feared this charming but vacant wooden Victorian home might wind up a pile of ashes. Now it is a fine residence for the Women's Housing Coalition. Thanks go to Healthy Neighborhoods for investing $1.6 million in the neighborhood.

I spent a fine fall day at Mill No. 1 at 3000 Falls Road, where the old Mount Vernon cotton duck mill made a return as apartments and offices. It cost $45 million to pull off this triumph.

This was also the year when the Baltimore Design School opened in the old Lebow men's clothing factory. The Greater Greenmount neighborhood moved forward with blocks of new construction at Barclay and 21st. In nearby Johnson Square, at Greenmount and Preston Street, the Lillian Jones apartments arrived, along with renovated homes.

In the last few weeks of this year, I began to notice a transformation in our old downtown, as 10 Light Street, once called Baltimore Trust or the Mathieson Building, hummed with work lights and construction debris chutes. I was thinking how it will make a statement, along with the nearby B&O; Building (Hotel Monaco) and the Lord Baltimore Hotel, which is also due for an extensive makeover. I am going to watch closely as this revered part of the old downtown emerges.

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