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Station North: The New Wild West

Station North is evolving.  It didn’t start last year, or even the year before.  It started with baby steps, picking up speed slowly.  It didn’t receive the sort of help the Inner Harbor received. This evolution is more organic. Lots of people are bullish on this area of Baltimore. But whether it will turn into the vision so many are hoping for is anyone’s guess — this is Baltimore, after all.

DSC_1214In order for Station North to succeed, there will have to be a tipping point of success.  For now, Station North is still attracting early adopters —  people with a sense of adventure or perhaps hubris.

As with any type of evolution, there will be missteps.  Some businesses will come, fail, and be replaced by others. Real estate-wise, it has that Wild West feel.  It has settlers and homesteaders. Instead of tumbleweeds, it has graffiti.  The cattle rustlers are those who steal trash cans — yes, trash cans.  It has its share of saloons, too.  There’s a gold rush in Station North, and that gold is real estate.  People are staking their claim by buying houses on Lanvale, Lafayette, Calvert, Charles and Saint Paul Streets.

DSC_1226Visually, Station North is a conglomeration of various architectural styles:  Richardsonian Romanesque, Italianate, Modern, Art Deco, and even Islamic.  But many of these buildings have suffered over time, whether through neglect or the fast-money, jack-leg handymen advertising themselves as competent tradesmen.

Still, old timers watch the goings-on and yawn; they’ve seen it all before.  Ten years ago everyone was buying, but it didn’t last and the housing market collapsed.  Somehow it seems different this time.  This time, deep-pocket developers are buying and rehabbing several properties at a time — in some cases, four or five in the same block.

DSC_1212This ain’t Williamsburg yet, but it could be.  And if you don’t know what Williamsburg is, Station North probably is not for you.  One day there may be a storefront offering boysenberry-and-basil infused, hand-crafted, organic peanut butter on a slice of artisan toast drizzled with back-alley-farmed honey (too much?).

Station North or, by its formal name, the Station North Arts and Entertainment District, is still in its incubator period.  There is an invisible hand guiding or perhaps prodding it along, but eventually that hand will be pushed aside by people with their own vision.  And maybe that is the plan — add a few ingredients to a petri dish, stand back, and watch what happens.

A caution to any investor with 50K in their pocket and good credit:  if that’s all you’ve got, save your money. (Just ask the speculators who tried and failed in 2005-2007.)  This is not a place to make a quick buck.  Investors will need vision, patience, and persistence–oh, and adequate financial resources.


Who is he and why is he there?


North Charles, a block from Penn Station.

Station North really does have all the ingredients to transform itself into a viable, even a more sought-after neighborhood. But it has had those ingredients for some time now.  It’s in close proximity to Penn Station, so there’s easy access to DC.  It has several restaurants, and a few are even worth visiting a second time (Tapas Teatro).  It has the New Door Creative gallery in the 1600 block of Saint Paul, with patrons from as far away as DC and New York. And while the Everyman Theater vacated the area for what it believes is a greener pasture, the Charles Theater stayed.

A new office building in the 1500 block of Calvert Street will be completed in late 2015 or early 2016, and will be occupied by city employees.  Government buildings don’t usually add to an area’s appeal, but the influx of more than 300 civil servants will give Station North even more exposure.  While this building will have its own cafeteria, having this many people located in one place will surely attract food trucks and, ultimately, more restaurants.  My own personal dream is that someone will open a bakery focusing on those artisan breads I crave (Maryland Avenue?), or a market focusing primarily on fruits and vegetables (North Avenue or the 1800 block of Guilford?) — the sort of stuff you have to go to a farmer’s market to get once a week.

Red Emma's

Red Emma’s

Some have already seen the writing on the wall.  Red Emma’s moved from its long-time location in Mount Vernon to Station North, no doubt to be closer to its ardent customers and to attract more.  But that’s only the commercial/artist/entertainment side of Station North.  The residential side is booming as well.  Both home-sale prices and rents are rising.  In fact, the better deal is on the sales side.  The winners in Station North will be the ones who own something.

Station North is a mecca for artists of every stripe.  Whether they can make a living at it is another question.  While the area may be a place to hone your skill and work out the kinks, many will eventually leave when they realize that most aren’t buying what they’re selling.

The other day I saw yellow footprints painted on the sidewalk in the 1800 block of Calvert Street that crossed North Avenue and continued up the 1900 block.  What struck me about these footprints was not that they were there, but that the artist apparently didn’t think it was important to show any type of gait– no left, then right, then left.  It was just a bunch of footprints that someone spent hours painting without thinking it through.  There are very few speed bumps between idea and action in Station North — some turn out to be good; others, not so much.

Highest and best use? We'll see when the new office building is complete.

Highest and best use? We’ll see when the new office building is complete.

As Station North matures, rough-hewn eyesores masquerading as hip venues will give way to something more visually appealing. Eventually, the seeds planted by artists and artsy types will grow and transform a district into a neighborhood.

Greg Bridges is a Baltimore-based Realtor who sells and writes about real estate in Baltimore. 410-215-0565


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