Millenials Love Baltimore
By Brian Kuebler
Recent headlines proclaim Baltimore is a cool city now.
Most of the articles start with the predictable mention of The Wire followed by an undertone of surprise that Charm City doesn't just exist in the dark, dank shadows of Washington's mind, but look at any of the rapid development in downtown Baltimore and you will see hard evidence of building for who is coming.
"From here to that column right there, we are gonna have two ping pong tables, a pool table, lounge or seating area, and an 80 inch television up there," said developer Steven Bloom describing his latest project at 26 South Calvert St.
He said he was banking on millennials to fill out the old USF&G bank building in an old commercial core of downtown Baltimore.
“Exactly,” Bloom said with a smile.
The millennials are coming and they are renting apartments in Baltimore's downtown core about as fast as developers can convert the old, vacant buildings.
"This age group, by and large, really want to live in places that are diverse and vibrant and walkable," said Kristen Mitchell with the Maryland Department of Planning.
Mitchell has been tracking the Baltimore millennial boom for a few years now and while there are many anecdotal and even physical signs of this trend beginning to peak, there is impressive quantitative proof as well.
"OK, let’s talk numbers,” she said. “Baltimore city since 2000 experienced the third largest percentage gain in college educated 25- 34-year-olds out of all the U.S. cities with a population greater than 600,000. Number three."
But the generation known as millennials are continuing that impressive population boom and is serving as a boon for many city neighborhoods.
From data gathered from 2009 to 2013 alone, nearly 110,000 millennials now choose to call Baltimore home and now make up nearly 20 percent of Baltimore's total population.
Dig into the data of who these new residents are and where they are living and you can see it varies.
From Brooklyn to Highlandtown to West Baltimore, the Baltimore Development Corporation said millennials are spreading throughout the city.
"It's certainly driving Baltimore's overall population,” BDC President Bill Cole said.
But is the city building specifically for millennials?
“I think we are certainly planning for them," Cole said.
There is no better evidence of that than in the two most popular neighborhoods for millennials since 2009 as each area is now made up of nearly 40 percent of the young college grads.
Metro Center, or the old commercial core, is busy turning inside out with apartment conversions of The Lenore, 26 South Calvert and others.
The other neighborhood, South Baltimore or SOBO which is increasingly forming its own identity from Federal Hill, new residential projects are replacing old industry.
In addition to several infill townhome projects planned for more than a few blocks on streets like Hanover and Fort Avenue, Wells Street has two brand new apartment buildings. The old Raffel building and cardboard box factory will be the luxury Heath Street Lofts and there are much bigger plans closer to the stadiums.
The BDC said South Baltimore's growth is just a small part of a total dollar investment in Baltimore that over the next 36 months is well north of $2 billion in green lit developments of tired old theaters, new skyscrapers and residential towers.
"Baltimore has become a hot market and we're seeing it,” Cole said. “We are seeing developers and investors that are coming in that weren't otherwise looking at Baltimore they are realizing it is an attractive market and that is why I think we are a top ten destination for millennials in the country."
The reasons vary; it is not just old industry versus new.
Mostly surveys show the millennial generation feel Baltimore has a fresh story to tell, is quainter and those that move here feel they can make an impact quicker.
But the key for Baltimore's growth is to keep this generation in the city.
The red line, circulator, bike lanes and parks are a large part of that Cole said.
"The reality is if we can find a way to continue to be attractive to millennials and then encourage them to make Baltimore their permanent home, I think we will be a vibrant city,” Cole said. “We are a vibrant city it is just that we are growing at a faster pace now because of that particular demographic."
A demographic leading the charge back into our urban core while having billions of dollars in development eager to chase them.
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