After approximately four years of owning the Olmstead lot, the barren plot of land between St. Paul and Charles on 33rd Street, Hopkins is beginning to discuss potential plans for the lot’s future development.
Purchased by Hopkins back in 2008 for $12.5 million, the development of the property is finally beginning to take off.
Hopkins hired Sasaki Associates Inc., a firm based in Boston specializing in interdisciplinary planning and design, to complete a study examining several questions related to student life and students’ needs.
Alan Fish, the Vice President for Real Estate and Campus Services, described the development delay as a result of challenging economic times. Fish credited University President Ron Daniels, with prompting the fruition of the St. Paul’s Street lot’s development.
“The real driver of this is President Daniels. He has made it a real priority to want to use Johns Hopkins as an anchor institution here in Baltimore, and Charles Village is one of our key locations. So if we can develop the site and help Charles Village, that is meant to be part of our agenda as an educational institution here in Baltimore. So he is really the driver as to getting something going on this to keep the growth of Charles Village going,” Fish said.
In terms of what the University will use the land for, Fish cited the Sasaki study.
“We’re really focused on three different questions there. One is ‘do we have enough student housing, and is it in the right place?’ And we decided that the AMRs and Wolman, McCoy, and Charles Village were adequate for what we needed for student housing,” Fish said.
The second piece of the study analyzed the geographical center of student life and student organizations on campus and, Fish explained, determined the appropriate location for these purposes to be the area surrounding the Eisenhower Library, Brody Learning Commons and the Mattin Center.
“The things that are in Garland and Levering ideally could migrate to that area,” Fish explained.
The third component examined in this study involves reinvigorating Charles Village.
“Certainly the Charles Commons and other retail projects have certainly helped make Charles Village safer and more vibrant and more economically viable, but that big vacant lot really needs to have some life in it as well. So in that report, we came out with a series of recommendations,” Fish said.
However, the main recommendation was to select and manage a developer to begin building on the lot. The selection process for that developer has been underway since the Trustees’ meeting in June.
“We want some real distinctive retail on the ground floor, we need a significant amount of parking, and then we’re interested in what the developer package would be for the rest of the block,” Fish said. “That could include housing; it could include commercial office space; it could include a hotel; it could include a variety of other private uses, and that’s what we’re looking for.”
“We’re not really looking at that as Johns Hopkins program building, but as more of a commercial or residential building that has retail embedded in it. And we think that will be a big improvement for Charles Village,” Fish said.
The Sasaki study identified two potential scenarios for clientele for retail on the St. Paul’s Street lot. The first scenario “assumes that the market continues to be driven by the ‘captive’ market audiences at JHU and Union Memorial,” according to the study.
“[The] local-serving retail lineup could potentially include [a] pharmacy (stated interest from majors), fast casual restaurants, and some service related tenants such as a small computer store, running store, or yoga studio,” the Sasaki study notes in the first scenario.
In the second scenario outlined by the firm, customers are attracted to the site from northern neighborhoods. The study identifies potential retailers, ranging from a Trader Joes-style grocery store to restaurants to sporting goods stores. In this scenario, greater infrastructure measures to accommodate parking and a greater influx of people would be required.
While the precise details about what will be built are not yet ironed out, Fish stressed that the site’s planning will incorporate input from the Hopkins community as well as larger Charles Village community.
Students have expressed different views as to what they would like to see built on the St. Paul’s Street lot. Student recommendations have ranged from recreational structures to restaurants.
“Oh, definitely an outdoor swimming pool. That would be so cool,” freshman Ally Eagan said.
Junior Ollie McNeely would also like to see a fun community structure. “Maybe like a park, with big kid slides and monkey bars and swings! Or maybe a parking lot for food trucks, or Panera,” McNeely said.
“I feel like a restaurant complex would be cool, or just some shopping options,” sophomore Laura Kokotallo said.
Freshman Leslie Cunningham discussed her desire to have easier access to items that the current businesses in Charles Village don’t necessarily carry. “You know what would be really nice? A CVS or a Walgreens store with a pharmacy, or other businesses that carry generic items that everyone needs all in one place. Also, some clothing stores would be a great addition to the area,” Cunningham said.
“Our primary goal is to get a vibrant development on this location that supports Charles Village, the residents and the existing businesses that are there by adding that retail capacity and whatever other developments are there,” Fish said. “A vibrant Charles Village is really our number one goal. And along the way, we believe that we will be able to get some revenue out of this in addition, but that’s not our primary goal.”
The site will remain owned by Hopkins, which will sign a long-term ground lease with the developer. Accordingly, the university will be at the table when it comes to choosing what exactly will be built on the land.
While Fish is unable to provide an accurate timeline until the exact plans are decided upon, Fish anticipates the physical construction of the site will take one to two years.
“I expect that by November, we will have a developer selected and then we’ll begin planning for what we put on that site… And then hopefully by next summer, we’ll begin to have exactly what we would want to put there. And then some time in the ‘13-‘14 academic year we would start construction,” Fish said.