Fixing Broad & Washington

Recently a plan came out for the northwest corner of Broad and Washington, an important intersection. This site is the historic location of the Baltimore Railroad, most of which is demolished, except for a train shed on the corner on 15th and Carpenter. Given this historic train shed, the developers have sought to place a one-story structure on Broad St to preserve the viewshed of this architecturally interesting building.

However, this one story stub does little to actually provide any connection to the trainshed, or even visual cues. As a proof of concept, I created a massing model of a one story structure and evaluated the views of the trainshed both from the east side of Broad St and west side of Broad St. As you can see, there one story stub blocks most of the views, eliminating its usefulness.

View of the trainshed from the west side of Broad Street. Basically, there is no view.

View of the trainshed from the west side of Broad Street. Basically, there is no view.

You can only see the very top of the building from the opposing street

You can only see the very top of the building from the opposing street

What Should Be Done Here

Rather than have a small one story structure here, the developer should develop the land to provide a green, open space that would draw pedestrians from Broad St to a trainshed market, serve to manage stormwater, and allow for a much better view of the trainshed.

Mashup of Hawthorne Park for what could be.

Mashup of Hawthorne Park for what could be.

Why The Developer Should Do This

It's important when proposing changes to a developer's plan to find ways that will help, rather than hinder, the financial likelihood of success. And fortunately, this recommended change allows the developer to have better financial footing than the one-story plan.

The first financial reason is stormwater management. New construction on large sites like this are mandated to manage the first 1" of stormwater runoff. On this site, over 100,000 gallons of stormwater will be generated from the first 1" of stormwater runoff. Even if the parking garage has a green roof, as proposed, it only covers less than 1/3rd of the runoff. The remaining 70,000 gallons need to be managed. One option is underground tanks, and presumably what the developer is currently proposing. The other option, if this layout is used, is to utilize a portion of the site for stormwater rain gardens. Doing so would beautify the site and accomplish the goal of managing stormwater runoff with less cost than an underground tank.

 

The second reason the developer should do this is because it makes better business sense for the trainshed retail market. As currently proposed behind a one story building, it feels detached from Broad St, limiting foot traffic and the corridor connection. This will be especially important once the 1,500+ units come online across the street. An open pedestrian plaza will increase the tenant retention and become a destination to locate a business, seen as a prime location along Broad St, rather than tucked away on 15th and Carpenter.

Why Neighbors Should Support This Plan

A pedestrian plaza here would allow for additional outdoor market space in the summer for these retailers, allow for outdoor seating, and bring much needed green space to the neighborhood.

The success of retail at the trainshed depends on its connection to this development, the overall neighborhood, and important corridors. With the current plan to tuck it away behind a generic one-story retail box, the market stands little opportunity for success. If, however, the trainshed is elevated to a location people see and want to go to, a thriving market can start, providing small-businesses with a low rent market location ala Reading Terminal Market.  

Rather than a generic one-story structure here, which will support only one use, most likely a low-end retailer like The Dollar Store, this structure would provide limited use. A pedestrian plaza would be dynamic, allowing for multiple uses, serve as a neighborhood gathering space, and develop an important 'Third Place' in the neighborhood connected to the trainshed market.

Why The City Should Support This Plan

PIDC, a quasi-public-private company, is the owner of the majority of this land. It is in the city's best interest that this site be appropriately developed, not only for the sake of this parcel, but for this important corridor. If it wants to see the trainshed market succeed, an appropriate entrance needs to be developed for this site. Without it, the trainshed will languish. If this parcel languishes and includes generic one story structures, we'll continue to see out-of-character one story structures line Broad St. If however, these developers get it right, it'll serve as an example and anchor to fixing Broad Street and Washington Ave. Now is the time to get it right and the PIDC should settle for no less than the best for this key corridor, as it will set the example for years to come.