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CBRE’s Levy: ‘Crime is not an excuse for Baltimore’

Spencer Levy gets a little meta during his presentation during NAIOP Maryland's "Capital Stacks" event on Tuesday. (Adam Bednar)

Spencer Levy gets a little meta during his presentation during NAIOP Maryland’s “Capital Stacks” event on Tuesday. (Adam Bednar)

Urban retail, Baltimore included, has a bright future.

That’s the belief espoused by CBRE’s Spencer Levy. Levy, one of the nation’s leading economists and researchers working in commercial real estate, argues brick-and-mortar retailers are following residents to the live, work and play sections of cities across the nation.

“Where you see urban density you’re going to need good urban retail, and urban retail is a combination of local restaurants, but also local businesses.

The reason I’m a big fan of vertical density is because it creates a virtuous cycle of other businesses, and the need for infrastructure, which also is virtuous, and urban retail is a net beneficiary because that’s where you’re seeing many of the rooftops of people, not just with money, but disposable money (move),” Levy, chairman of Americas research and senior economic advisor for CBRE, said.

Levy rejected the idea Baltimore’s problems with
violent crime serve as a sufficient deterrent to the growth that  sustains retailers following the “rooftops.” He pointed to cities, such as Milwaukee and Chicago, which are growing while struggling with violent crime.

“Crime is not an excuse for Baltimore. It’s a reason that we need to get moving… We’ve got problems here, man, all right, but they are no different than the problems are in many other cities in America, and they should not be used as a crutch for us,” Levy said during his presentation.

Levy, a Baltimore County resident, spoke about his belief in urban retail during his presentation at NAIOP Maryland’s “Capital Stacks” event on Tuesday morning.

His bullish outlook on the sector runs contrary to the narrative surrounding retail in Baltimore. The city has notoriously struggled to attract and retain retailers in the aftermath of the 2015 riots.

High profile closures in and around the Inner Harbor highlighted Baltimore’s struggles. Developers have publicly acknowledged  difficulty luring tenants to some projects.

But Levy argues retail in the city can thrive. After his talk he used a recent deal CBRE completed in Flint, Michigan as an example of an area struggling with disinvestment still attracting the right retail.

“We ended up bringing in a local grocer that the community embraced, at a lower price point than bringing in one of the nationals, and its a huge success,” he said.

Developers, such as Corporate Office Properties Trust pursuing two-story retail pavilion at 100 E. Pratt St, temporarily dubbed Pratt Street Annex, and Horseshoe Casino’s ownership group building the so-called “entertainment district” along Warner Street are hoping Levy is right.

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