Close your eyes and imagine, just across North Avenue, a newly built development bordering on Bolton Hill and Reservoir Hill that could include several hundred market rate and affordable apartments and town houses, a grocery store and other retail, a health care facility and possibly some sort of innovation hub to help young entrepreneurs get started.
That’s what Gov. Larry Hogan, then-Mayor Catherine Pugh and a platoon of city officials and developers were imagining nearly four years ago in a December 2016 ceremony celebrating the demolition of an infamous vacant apartment complex and the remnants of a shopping area once known as “Murder Mall.” The talk was all upbeat, as Ethan McLeod reported recently in the Baltimore Business Journal: “a transformative, $1000 million mixed-use development unlike any seen west of I-83.”
Open your eyes, though, and what you see is a fenced-in eight acres of rubble and weeds. Welcome to Madison Park North.
McLeod discussed the lack of progress with WYPR’s Tom Hall recently. And he was not pessimistic about eventual development in the 700 and 800 blocks of W. North Ave. The lead developer, Baltimore real estate investment trust MCB Real Estate, continues to feature the project prominently on its website.
It has taken the city council two years to get around to considering land use legislation needed to change the zoning that dated back to a 1970s urban renewal project. As with everything else, the COVID pandemic has made lining up financing and anchor commercial tenants difficult. David Bramble of MCB grew up in the neighborhood and says he is confident that the financing will eventually come together. “We’ll pull this off. It’s just a lot of moving parts,” he told BBJ.
An unexpected complication has been an underground right-of-way inherited in 1976 by Amtrak, which wants to expand and update its B&P Tunnel that dates to 1873 and runs from Penn Station to West Baltimore Station. That project will cost billions of dollars that Amtrak doesn’t have and could take a decade or more to complete if it starts. While the tunnel is not under the MPN property, the railroad’s access extends there. Bramble thinks a deal with Amtrak eventually will come together. Until it does, there will be no cranes or construction.
Hogan is winding down his second term. Catherine Pugh has relocated to Alabama. Bramble says he is reworking the plans for the development and hopes to share them with potential investors and the neighborhoods “soon.” He says beginning construction is probably a couple of years further in the future.
– Bill Hamilton