Reviving Howard Street: From Neglect to Renaissance

Reviving Howard Street: From Neglect to Renaissance

Once the bustling heart of commerce in Downtown Baltimore, Howard Street has experienced a remarkable evolution that mirrors the city's journey through the decades. From its heyday as a vibrant commercial thoroughfare to the decline that saw neglect and disrepair, the street is now at the cusp of a renaissance, a resurgence propelled by ambitious revitalization projects that promise to restore the street to its former glory.

In its prime, Howard Street was synonymous with bustling commerce, vibrant storefronts, and a lively atmosphere. Its theaters, department stores, and shops were the pulse of Downtown, drawing crowds from all areas of the city and displaying a cross-section of demographic backgrounds. However, as the city's economic landscape shifted and suburbanization took hold, the street faced a period of decline. Decades of neglect and disinvestment led to the decay of once-grand buildings, leaving vacant storefronts and a sense of abandonment. Howard Street, once the jewel of Baltimore, became a symbol of urban blight, reflecting the challenges faced by many inner-city neighborhoods across the United States. The west side of Downtown Baltimore has historically seen underinvestment. However, the tide has begun to turn as dedicated efforts to revitalize Howard Street take shape.

Interior atrium of Lexington Market, courtesy of BCT Design Group.

The rejuvenation of Lexington Market and the transformation of CFG Bank Arena stand as pivotal moments in Howard Street Corridor's resurgence. As a cherished cultural hub, Lexington Market has redefined Baltimore's vibrant Bromo Arts District food landscape. Established in 1782 and the original building structure erected in 1803, it stands among the nation's oldest and most enduring public fresh markets. Entrusted to Seawall Development to redevelop the project, this Baltimore icon received a remarkable revitalization, breathing new vitality into its historic halls. The result? A reimagined Lexington Market, meticulously crafted to honor its legacy while embracing modernity, ensuring its legacy thrives into the future.

Exterior of CFG Bank Arena, courtesy of Oak View Group & BBB Architects

Similarly, the $250 million renovation of CFG Bank Arena by the Oak View Group breathed new life into the historic "Baltimore Civic Arena" and catalyzed further redevelopment in the area. This transformation introduces state-of-the-art facilities, elevating the Arena into a modern entertainment powerhouse. The new exterior included a 2,592 square-foot LED screen per the city’s new “Area of Special Signage Control,” improved lighting and signage, and new outdoor programming. The most significantly experience improvements are within; the new interior features contemporary seating, enhanced suites, food and beverage amenities, a reimagined concourse, and thoughtful backstage and back-of-house production. The Premium “East and West Club” spaces invoke the elegant lounge era of decades past and provide a private experience for guests and corporate patrons. These private packages also include chic suites off the club spaces and exclusive “Theatre Boxes” with some of the best seats in the house. The new design balances historical significance with today’s contemporary amenities needs.

Its innovative features enhance the event experience, making it a magnet for diverse shows and concerts. The Arena has once again become a focal point for entertainment, drawing people back to the area.

We're spearheading a critical revitalization in Baltimore City by leveraging a potent blend of public and private investments totaling over $700 million, spanning from CFG Bank Arena to Crook Horner Lofts. The injection of these substantial private mixed-use developments are the key to rejuvenating this pivotal commercial district.

Exterior of St. James Place, courtesy of Junica Properties, Civic Group, and Urban Design Group.

The redevelopment of Junica Properties and The Civic Group's St. James Place, initially established in 1905 as the John Turnbull Jr. & Co. furniture store, involves the restoration of three buildings, creating 55 residential units. The project emphasizes historical preservation while integrating new amenities and exterior enhancements. By optimizing space usage and unit designs, construction expenses remained manageable, enabling rents to be set at a reasonable 80-100% of the Area Median Income (AMI) without compromising on the use of premium materials and construction standards.

Read's Drugstore circa 1940s (left), Proposed Compass project (before CHAP approval) corner of Lexington and Howard Streets (right).

The planned Super Block complex, Compass, is another pivotal project in the area's rejuvenation. Westside Partners, Vitruvius and Mayson-Dixon, aim to blend residential, commercial, and cultural spaces, creating a vibrant mixed-use destination. By reimagining the urban landscape, Compass aims to transform Howard Street into a thriving neighborhood again. The project recently received a crucial green light this past August to demolish three historic buildings within the Super Block site downtown and salvage the facades of two others, paving the way for the $155 million redevelopment to move forward after months of debate with the historic preservation groups and approval bodies.

The compromise acknowledges the importance of preserving as many of the historic facades and structures as possible, such as the Read’s Drug Store building at Howard and Lexington. Originally an Art Deco icon, this site holds a pivotal place in Civil Rights history. Despite its architectural acclaim, the location became renowned for its role in an early and significant sit-in protest for desegregation. In 1955, inspired by discontent with segregation policies, Baltimore's CORE and Morgan State University students staged a groundbreaking sit-in at Read’s, prompting the end of segregated lunch counters across all their stores. This influential protest, predating the South Carolina Woolworth’s sit-ins, marked a seminal moment in Civil Rights history, turning a once-segregated establishment into a symbol of successful activism and social change. This is the tapestry of heritage we are preserving.

The Mayfair fills in a major gap of North Howard Street, courtesy of Zalcho and Moseley Architects.

After years of silence, the Mayfair Theatre will live again thanks to Zahlco's redevelopment plans for 500 N. Howard, aptly named The Mayfair. This beloved 117-year-old theatre, with its storied past and captivating façade, will be honored and preserved as the centerpiece of a grand revival. Zahlco's blueprint encompasses a 6-story mixed-use building, paying homage to the former Franklin-Delphy Hotel's location—razed in 2015 due to irreparable conditions.

At the heart of this $22 million endeavor lies a commitment to revitalize the community by seamlessly blending old-world charm with modern living. The project's blueprint includes 95 apartments and 10,000 square feet of ground floor commercial space. The promise of an inviting outdoor "spill-out area" at the building's corner hints at a vibrant atmosphere, welcoming both residents and visitors alike.

This ambitious project not only aims to restore the theatre's faded glory but also envisions a new chapter for the community.

Amidst these developments, the recent ribbon cutting for Crook Horner Lofts was symbolic, signifying a historic landmark's rebirth. The restoration of this architectural gem not only preserved the area's heritage but also signaled a commitment to preserving the character of Howard Street while embracing its transformation. The $12 million project renovated the two buildings at 301-305 North Howard Street into 15 live/work loft apartments and will identify lively uses for the ground floor retail spaces. B&B Urban's and The Civic Group's Crook Horner Lofts stand as a harbinger, heralding a wave of transformation, rekindling the spirit of an area steeped in historical charm awaiting its renaissance.

Sharing these stories helps weave together the rich tapestry of the area's history and its vibrant future. Hats off to the Crook Horner Lofts team for their compelling video—it masterfully unfolds the narrative of Howard Street, painting a vivid portrait of its past and future.

All these developers listed and those who continue to bet on Howard Street understand the promise of revival and the opportunity to restore a legacy. The comeback of Howard Street reflects a broader trend in urban renewal, where communities harness their history while embracing innovation and progress. The convergence of public and private investments has reinvigorated the street, fostering a sense of pride and optimism among residents and businesses.

As Howard Street continues its journey from decay to renaissance, the challenges of sustaining this momentum remain. However, the collective vision and commitment to preserving the area's heritage while fostering growth and innovation paint a promising picture for the future. The transformation of Howard Street serves as a reminder that with determination, strategic planning, and community engagement, even the most neglected urban areas can experience a remarkable revival. As Baltimore continues to evolve, the revival of Howard Street stands as a testament to the city's resilience and its ability to reinvent itself while honoring its past.

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