With the bustling storefronts, racing cars and hoards of pedestrians surrounding it, the empty lot on St. Paul Street — formerly known as the “Olmstead Lot” — stands alone. Last fall, Hopkins detailed plans to develop the lot after years of idleness due to financial concerns. Now, more information on the project is trickling out.
“The space was acquired back in 2009 when a previous proposal to develop housing, parking and retail collapsed in the 2008 recession. And so that project assembled all the land and at that point in time Hopkins bought all the land thinking it would be a great opportunity. But the economics were not right at the time,” Alan Fish, Vice President for Facilities and Real Estate, said.
Hopkins originally purchased the lot for $12.5 million.
With the economic upturn, combined with a push from President Ronald J. Daniels to cultivate the local community, plans to develop the lot have resumed and are now in full swing.
“President Daniels, in his view of trying to revitalize Charles Village as really being an extension of the Homewood Campus, has been a passionate proponent for getting that land developed in order to activate and energize Charles Village, both for the community and for the University,” Fish said. “So we’re acting as quickly as possible to try and put this development together now that the economics are in better shape.”
In his “Ten-By-Twenty” plan for the University, Daniels identifies a desire to “Enhance and enrich our ties to Baltimore, the nation and the world, so that Johns Hopkins becomes the exemplar of a globally engaged, urban university.” The development of this lot, Fish says, is an advancement of that goal.
Over the summer, Armada Hoffler and Beatty Development, the University’s development partners for the project, began hatching plans for the main building they intend to construct on the property. They are currently in the process of completing a preliminary design for the structure, which will include retail, parking and housing.
“The preliminary design for that site is including a significant amount of retail all along St. Paul [Street] and then up 33rd [Street] to Lovegrove [Avenue], and then an embedded parking garage inside the structure behind the retail,” Fish said. “Over the top of that will be a significant amount of apartments—market-rate apartments—that will be targeted towards both a student and young professional audience at this point in time.”
The specific details of each component are still in the works.
“Once that preliminary design gets done, then the development team will begin looking to begin filling out commitments for who will be in the retail—what kinds of restaurants, food services, and other services will fill out that space.”
While the process is moving quickly, Fish explained how certain steps must first be completed before specific retailers can be identified.
“The retailers are still up in the air because the sequence normally is to get the preliminary design completed enough so that you can take it to your prospective tenants and begin showing them what the spaces look like, and then you can begin negotiating,” he said.
Fish also emphasized that while Hopkins will continue to have an involved role in the project, the developers are leading the selection process for what tenants will occupy the space.
“Once we get into the retail strategy, yes, we have an advisory role throughout the retail process and housing and parking as well. So all three of these things will have Hopkins stakeholders as part of that discussion. But remember, this is the developer making all of the investments, and the stake we have in this is that we will continue to own the land, and we’ll do a ground lease to the developer. But the developer will be putting all of their money, all their equity, into the entire construction. So they are more in the driver’s seat as far as the details and the financing of this business, but we will certainly be at the table every step of the way as they sort out their planning options,” Fish said.
Fish outlined the timetable for the project, disclosing that the University does not anticipate its completion until the fall of 2016.
“The retail commitment process… could last for a year or two before it is completely full. We’re looking at the project starting in mid-2014 but not opening until the fall of 2016. So for retailers who are looking, they rarely look three years ahead before they start signing commitments. But we’re having lots of conversations—the developers are having lots of conversations right now—to try and begin that process of securing a pretty vibrant retail sector in that frontage,” Fish said.
Spaces in the parking garage component will be made available to employees of the retail spaces, tenants of apartments above and the general public.
“That will be a big boost for convenient parking capacity in the Charles Village area,” Fish said. “So that’s one of our main goals.”
The apartments above the parking and retail space will be managed by Bazzuto Management, a firm renowned for running apartment buildings in Baltimore, across the Mid-Atlantic and throughout the Northeast.
“We continue to look at other development opportunities around Charles Village and other Hopkins properties in order to work beyond just the 3200 St. Paul [lot], but this is the one that’s out in front and that we’re really focusing on getting moving,” Fish said.