According to the Baltimore Business Journal, downtown Baltimore’s office vacancy rate is, amazingly, about 19%. A new task force, co-chaired by J. Kirby Fowler, President of Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Inc. and Colin Tarbert, Deputy Director of the Mayor’s Office for Economic and Neighborhood Development, aims to combat this ballooning rate. Contractors working in downtown Baltimore should be aware of this task force and the steps it is taking to build-up the downtown area. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake recently commented that the newly created “Downtown Task Force” would be “developing strategies to strengthen the downtown office market by attracting new business, stimulating job growth and spurring new investment.”
In describing the Task Force, the mayor noted:
While focused primarily on office vacancy, the overarching goal of the Mayor’s Task Force was to develop recommendations that will also serve as part of a larger strategy aimed at strengthening Downtown with a new vision for the future. That vision includes Downtown becoming an ever-evolving mixed use neighborhood, which includes business, a diverse population of residents, hotels, thriving retail and restaurants, and expanding anchor institutions.
The Task Force had three main goals in mind while conducting their background research, which were to:
- Review past, present and anticipated office market trends;
- Determine short-term and long-term strategies to reduce vacancy rates, attract new business, and facilitate the growth of existing companies; and
- Identify opportunities for new development and/or the repositioning of underutilized office properties.
Based on their findings, the Task Force has made five recommendations for Baltimore, including:
- Collectively market downtown’s office space by combining the efforts of Downtown Partnership, the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore, city agencies and private businesses, and clearly define which role each group should play in those efforts;
- Review and evaluate the effectiveness of federal, state and city incentives, and develop new ones, to help attract and keep businesses downtown;
- Work with downtown businesses and institutions to identify service providers those groups work with that may also want to relocate to the city;
- Establish a standing committee of federal, state and city agencies to identify what their future office needs will be and how downtown’s office buildings can accommodate those needs; and
- Create a plan, including financial incentives, to help downtown building owners convert obsolete office space into apartments or mixed-use projects.
What does this mean for Baltimore Builders?
The final recommendation – conversion of obsolete office space into apartments – has the most impact on contractors. High priority buildings recommended for conversion into mixed-use spaces are:
- 10 Light Street, The Bank of America Building;
- 2 Hopkins Plaza, PNC Bank Building;
- 114 East Lexington Street, Provident Bank Building;
- 225 North Calvert Street, Bank of America Building;
- 10-12 North Calvert Street, The Equitable Building; and
- 10 North Charles Street, Johns Hopkins Downtown Center.
The Task Force also intends to implement an incentive program that would primarily focus on the conversion of properties from office use to residential use, either owner-occupied or rental. Good news for contractors looking to participate in Baltimore’s downtown revitalization.