New stores, specialty shops and restaurants under way or on the drawing board would add more than 1 million square feet of retail space to Baltimore's core over the next three years and expand the retail district well beyond its existing boundaries.
From Baltimore's west side to east of the Inner Harbor and up North Charles Street, developers are scrambling to channel shopping into mostly street-level space in proposed new or renovated apartment and office buildings and hotels.
If all seven major projects now planned succeed, retail space downtown would double, with stores and restaurants spreading well beyond the Inner Harbor, says the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Inc. The group is launching its first effort to attract national retail chains.
But even if a market shakeout scales back some of the development, the projects could spark an unprecedented retail revival in a downtown that for the past few decades has lost shoppers to suburban shopping malls, economic development experts said. The proposals call for more than three times the retail space of Harborplace and the Gallery mall.
"Baltimore is on the uptick, as far as development. Developers are here because they can make money here," said Michele L. Whelley, executive vice president of the Downtown Partnership. Pointing to the popularity of shopping areas with a re-created urban feel, such as the Avenue in White Marsh and downtown Bethesda, she said, "We [already] have the urban feel here."
The flurry of activity reminds Wayne Gioioso Jr. of the early 1960s, when retail thrived on Howard Street and One Charles Center drew national attention when it started the Charles Center renewal area.
"It's healthy that there are that many projects and that many people interested in doing it," said Gioioso of Artemis Properties Inc., Peter G. Angelos' development company, referring to the amount of retail space. "In our lifetime, this has never happened down here. You see a lot of residential construction happening, and that trend is only going to gain momentum. It's like a light went on about Baltimore City."
Artemis Properties is designing a concept for street-level retail in three downtown office towers that front on the open Centerplaza. They include One Charles Center, at 100 N. Charles, which Artemis is renovating, and buildings at 210 N. Charles and 120 W. Fayette St. Marconi's restaurant will be an anchor, joined by tenants such as restaurants, a coffee shop, bakery, copy shop and food store.
Demand in largely under-served neighborhoods is driving retail growth in cities across the country, said Carl Steidtmann, chief retail economist for PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York.
"Most older major metropolitan areas are seeing similar kinds of development take place," said Steidtmann, who lists national chains Gap Inc., Walgreen and Rite Aid Corp. as among the most aggressive in the inner cities.
"Retailers generally follow their customers. You're seeing people move back downtown. The inner cities themselves are one of the few underdeveloped places [for retail] in the country that are left."
In Baltimore, the Downtown Partnership realized that downtown lacked an overall marketing plan for retail, Whelley said.
"Retail is an important piece of the fabric downtown if you're developing a 24-hour city," she said. "But there was no effort to look at downtown in a big picture sense, to bring it to the attention of local and national retailers."
She and her staff want to paint that broad picture. For the first time, the group is bringing a marketing pitch to the high-profile International Council of Shopping Centers conference in Las Vegas next month. Downtown Partnership plans to highlight the boutiques and eateries along North Charles Street and Harborplace shops as well as the proposed retail development at the seven projects.
"We could present a retailer with any type of space, ranging from 5,000 square feet to 30,000 square feet," in an area bounded by North Avenue, the Inner Harbor, Martin Luther King Boulevard and Caroline Street, said Dominic E. Wiker, business development manager for the Downtown Partnership. He estimates that, while the proposed projects would displace about 200,000 square feet of existing retail, they would double retail downtown, now at 1.25 million square feet.
Projects include hotels, stores and offices at Inner Harbor East; an entertainment district at Power Plant Live and upscale shops at Lockwood Place on East Pratt Street; restaurants at Centerplaza, neighborhood-oriented retail at Charles Plaza and two large projects on the city's west side that are to mix apartments with tenants such as a cinema, apparel stores, coffee shops and neighborhood services.
The group will also promote the city's demographics -- 140,000 downtown office workers, 29,501 residents, 15 million annual visitors and 525,000 convention delegates. An extra 1,300 apartments slated to come online in the next year should bring more people downtown, the group says.
Even in the early stages of many of the projects, developers said they have strong interest from retailers. "There's almost no concern about getting leases; there's that much interest," said Timothy S. Herb, development director for Kravco Co., the managing partner for developer Lockwood Associates.
Next spring, Lockwood will start building a 250-room hotel, office tower, garage and 120,000-square feet of mostly high-end retail on the Baltimore City Community College campus at Pratt Street and Market Place, which should open by fall 2002.
In the central business district, Southern Management Corp. purchased the 50,000-square-foot, one-third vacant Charles Plaza, at Charles and Saratoga streets, with plans to demolish part of it and redevelop it with retail to serve local residents.
Tenants will likely include one larger retailer and three or four smaller ones, possibly a grocery store, restaurant or food services, said David Hillman, chief executive officer of Southern Management. Development should start by the end of the year.
The Downtown Partnership's marketing effort can only help, developers said.
"It helps to show national retailers that Baltimore is a place to be and has choices," Gioioso, of Artemis Properties, said. "And they're not pie in the sky. They're real. If [retailers] come here and go to competing projects, it's still good for everybody."
"It says Baltimore wants retailers," said Maria Johnson, senior vice president of Bank of America Community Development Corp.
The bank is negotiating with the city to acquire the block bounded by Eutaw, Baltimore, Fayette and Howard streets to develop Centerpoint. Plans call for preserving two-thirds of the block's buildings and constructing a 365-unit apartment building ringed by at least 50,000 square feet of retail.
The project, which would feature local restaurants and service-oriented shops and national tenants to serve residents, office workers and visitors, would sit across the street from the Hippodrome Theater. The theater, a focal point of the city's $350 million west side urban renewal project, and Centerpoint are slated to open in 2002.
A second major west side project is Howard Street U.S.A., at Howard and Lexington streets, which includes the redevelopment of the former Stewart's department store for a telemarketing or high-tech center, apartments and about 400,000 square feet of stores, which could include sporting goods and apparel retailers, said Joel Winegarden, director of real estate for the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, the developers. He hopes to preserve at least eight of the existing buildings.
It is unlikely that all the proposed retail will be built, developers say. But the success of the projects will depend on the market.
"There's nothing smarter or more intelligent than the market," said Reed S. Cordish, a vice president of the Cordish Co., which is converting the Brokerage mall at 34 Market Place into the Power Plant Live entertainment complex with bars, clubs, restaurants and live performance venues.
"A national clothing store is not going to come to a market that doesn't make sense for them, no matter what a developer tells them. The market will put a cap when it reaches a saturation point. And we're nowhere near a saturation point."