A big-name development team involving Beatty Development Group and Henson Development Co. has emerged with plans to redevelop the historic Old Town Mall site.
But the hurdles to successfully redeveloping the historic shopping site and the former Sommerset Homes property remains: a major obstacle is Interstate 83, which cuts the property off from downtown.
“We’re looking at a mixed-income mixed-use site, in terms of real estate, that essentially links up with everything else in the city,” said Daniel P. Henson III, principal at Henson Development Co.
In April, the Baltimore Development Corp. and the Housing Authority of Baltimore City issued a Request For Proposals to redevelop the area, which has become a symbol of urban decline in East Baltimore. Kimberly Clarke, BDC executive vice president, said there were two responses to those request, and only the proposal from The New Old Town Team including Beatty, Henson, Commercial Development Group and Mission First Housing Development Corp., is viable. Clarke said the BDC will spend the next six months reviewing the proposal with the development team.
“We are now moving forward with a study period with that team to explore some of the concepts contained in their response. Their response contains several different concepts, all of which included development of the entire site as a mixed-use development to include retail, both for sale and rental housing components as well as community amenities like a park/playground/community center,” Clarke said.
But redeveloping the site won’t be easy. Some development experts believe that the success of the project hinges around an ability to better connect the site to downtown Baltimore. To develop a sufficient connection between Old Town and downtown would require addressing the elevated portion of I-83 that separates the area.
When the RFP was announced last year, Al Barry, a prominent land use consultant and owner of AB Associates, said that for a project at that site to succeed the highway needs to come down. Barry, the former assistant planning director for the Baltimore City Planning Department, has been advocating for the lower portion of the expressway to be pulled down and replaced with a boulevard for more than a decade.
“At some point, the city is going to have to face that fact and begin some strategic planning as to when the expressway should come down, because at some point it has to come down because they can’t afford to rebuild it,” Barry said last April.