The Baltimore City Planning Commission has the opportunity Thursday to weigh in on 25th Street Station, the proposed development at 25th and Howard streets. There are a host of reasons why the project and proposed Walmart store are good for our community. (Disclosure: I authored a report on this issue for a public relations firm that is under contract to Walmart.)
The 25th Street Station project and Walmart push the status quo in the right direction along all five dimensions: 1) we need jobs; 2) we need additional tax base; 3) Remington is struggling as a neighborhood; 4) there is too much vacant property; and 5) the city remains under-retailed. One might think that in an environment characterized by double-digit unemployment, a city like Baltimore and a neighborhood like Remington would embrace an employer offering hundreds of jobs that are associated with the skill sets that many unemployed Baltimoreans possess.
But vocal opposition has been expressed by those who would rather support a status quo associated with large-scale vacancy than a multimillion-dollar investment. Do the same people attempting to foreclose the possibility of Walmart's newest store also wonder why the city is under-employed, over-taxed and under-retailed?
While the city certainly needs more job opportunities accessible to its residents, some neighborhoods are more in need of economic improvement than others. One of these neighborhoods is Remington. Of the neighborhood's approximately 1,100 housing units, 26.4 percent are estimated to have been vacant last year, up from 17.2 percent in 2000 and 8.5 percent in 1990. The addition of a major employer in the community would help support the area's incomes, its housing market and its broader quality of life.
Adjacent neighborhoods have their own sets of challenges. For instance, as of 2009, Old Goucher is characterized by a 28 percent housing vacancy rate, Charles Village's vacancy rate is 24 percent, and Hampden's is 20 percent.
Recent evidence from other sources comports with the widely held view that Baltimore does not have sufficient retail opportunities to meet demand. In a survey conducted between July 15 and July 19 by the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Inc., two-thirds of respondents agreed that the number of retail stores in Baltimore is excessively limited, and nearly 80 percent said they do most of their shopping outside of Baltimore. Remarkably, nearly 90 percent of city employees and residents leave Baltimore City to buy essential items like clothing, furniture or appliances, according to the survey.
The new Walmart would help reverse part of this monetary outflow, preserving local spending power in the process as money is better recycled through the local economy.
It is also important to note that the proposed Walmart is part of a larger project known as 25th Street Station. Other retailers include a Lowe's, several medium-sized retailers and smaller, specialty retailers. In total, the proposed development will accommodate approximately 330,000 square feet of retail. Also proposed are 70 to 90 residential units along Maryland Avenue scaled to the existing neighborhood, and 1,091 parking spaces strategically scattered throughout the development site.
25th Street Station jobs would serve a desperate need. As of May, the city's unemployment rate stood at 10.1 percent, easily the highest in the Baltimore area and above the national average. Moreover, the number of retail jobs in the city has fallen drastically over the past decade. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in June 2000 there were 26,600 retail jobs in Baltimore City. Precisely 10 years later, that number stood at 16,000.
Given the nature of retail in the surrounding area, a number of small businesses are likely to benefit significantly from enhanced visitation generated by the proposed store, including the dozen or so restaurants that are located within five blocks of the proposed development, as well as auto-service businesses. In the final analysis, the Walmart and the entire project should be viewed as a significant and much-needed win for the city and its residents, particularly in the context of the current challenging economic and fiscal environment.