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Building Momentum: State of Downtown Baltimore Recap

April 12, 2024

With over 550 local leaders in attendance, plus insights from Brookings Placemaking Expert, Downtown Partnership highlights the progress made, and the potential for growth to come at annual State of Downtown Breakfast, presented by Gallagher Evelius & Jones.

On a beautiful spring morning in April, more than 550 active members of Baltimore’s business community gathered at the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel for Downtown Partnership’s 2024 State of Downtown Breakfast, presented by Gallagher Evelius & Jones. This annual event, which marks the unveiling of DPOB’s State of Downtown Report presented by MCB Real Estate, provides an economic snapshot of the previous year, tracking key data in office and employment, residential density, retail, and hospitality.

Image by Ana Tantaros, Side A Photography


 

The morning kicked off at 8:00 am with networking and breakfast, offering attendees a chance to mingle with old connections and forge new ones. From non-profit executives to dignitaries, developers, and beyond, the guest list featured a diverse lineup of Baltimore’s best. The formal presentation began promptly at 9:00 am to the sound of chimes, highlighting the progress made and the potential for growth ahead.

{Did you attend the 2024 Event? We’d love to hear more about your experience!}

DPOB President Shelonda Stokes welcomed distinguished speakers, including Senate President Bill Ferguson, Mayor Brandon Scott, Council President Nick Mosby, and Board Chair Carim Khouzami. Each echoed a resounding sentiment: the need to sustain the momentum of Downtown Baltimore’s renaissance. Together, they rallied attendees to champion Downtown Baltimore’s revitalization.

“Let Governor Moore know that we’re adding to his statement. Not only is it Maryland’s decade and Baltimore’s time…We’re taking is one step further to claim – this is Downtown’s moment,” exclaimed Stokes.

While imperfect, Downtown Baltimore has momentum. The Central Business District is maintaining pace with national averages, focusing on inclusivity, connectivity, and growth with over $6.9 billion invested through 2028. Collaboration among partners supports the CBD’s health and stability, crucial to Maryland’s overall well-being. Hybrid work is prevalent, with 54% of businesses working in a hybrid capacity, driving economic impacts. Office vacancy rates slightly increased, reflecting a national trend of adaptive reuse. The residential population is growing, with 41,066 residents and a housing occupancy rate of 92.5%.

Tourism rebounded, with overnight visitors increasing to 11.7 million in 2023, driving economic growth. Retail occupancy stands at 88.9%, with $900 million in retail sales transacted in 2023. Digital billboards and operational tools enhanced connectivity and safety, with plans for further technological integration. There was a notable 14.7% increase in overnight hotel stays over the past year.

It’s clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly reshaped downtown’s landscape, with more individuals working remotely and urban revitalization projects paused. Downtown hosts over 35% of the city’s job market, with over 40,000 residents calling the district home. Despite facing a 20% vacancy rate last year, downtown is poised for revitalization, with the anticipated relocation of thousands of state employees playing a pivotal role in filling the growing number of vacant office spaces.

DOWNLOAD THE REPORT HERE

Image by Ana Tantaros, Side A Photography


 

Mayor Brandon Scott took the stage and  highlighted the importance of downtown Baltimore and his administration’s commitment to its revitalization through the Downtown RISE Action Plan, which aims to make downtown more dynamic, inclusive, and prosperous. It recognizes downtown as the city’s fastest-growing neighborhood. Despite challenges, downtown remains crucial to the city’s growth. The Mayor emphasized that a healthy downtown is linked to revitalization efforts in neighborhoods, and we concur.

Image by Ana Tantaros, Side A Photography


“Now is the time for our downtown and we have to seize this moment by aggressively pursuing new businesses, growing downtown’s residential population, improving the cleanliness, safety, and infrastructure in downtown, bringing arts, creative placemaking and entertainment for all to enjoy, and implementing strategies to make downtown more pedestrian friendly,” emphasized Mayor Scott.

The Mayor also highlighted the city’s progress in reducing homicides, addressing vacant housing, and revitalizing key areas like the CFG Bank Arena. He announced upcoming plans, including the release of the comprehensive Downtown RISE plan and initiatives to improve downtown’s cleanliness, safety, and infrastructure.

 

SHARE YOUR INPUT ON THE DOWNTOWN RISE ACTION PLAN HERE

 

To conclude the event, we were honored to welcome our keynote speaker, Dr. Tracy Hadden Loh, to the stage for a captivating presentation. Dr. Loh, a placemaking expert and Fellow at The Brookings Institution’s Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking, delivered a thought-provoking talk on “Breaking the ‘Urban Doom Loop.'” She illuminated the challenges and opportunities that American downtowns face, inspiring us to collaborate in creating vibrant, inclusive urban spaces for all.

Image by Ana Tantaros, Side A Photography


 

Per Dr. Loh’s recommendations, in order for Downtown to thrive, Baltimore must:

    1. Tailor crime response strategies to high- and low-crime areas. Invest in the built environment, placemaking, and place governance to promote reassurance and belonging.
    2. Consolidate jobs and other assets in activity centers, including downtown. Make it easier to build new buildings and change old buildings. Create a downtown that people want to be in and be flexible in its development.
    3. Establish stable, ongoing funding for transit and prioritize building and operating a modern bus network.
    4. Stop looking for someone, something, or somewhere else to blame for issues like homelessness. Instead, build for zero by implementing proven strategies to prevent and reduce homelessness.
    5. Define recovery in a way that doesn’t simply replicate the past. Create next-generation policies that explicitly connect downtown prosperity with the well-being of surrounding neighborhoods.

 

DOWNLOAD HER PRESENTATION HERE

 

Tracy’s insights provide a strategic framework for addressing key challenges facing downtown Baltimore, emphasizing the importance of tailored strategies, strategic investments, and a forward-looking approach to urban development.

Image by Ana Tantaros, Side A Photography


 

As we reflect on the achievements of the past year, it is essential to acknowledge that progress cannot happen in isolation. To maximize our organization’s impact, we must align state, city, and DPOB strategies while fostering stronger public-private partnerships with investors, community members, and local businesses. The time for action is now. With the necessary capital, leadership, and momentum, our collective growth hinges on the success of the Central Business District.

 

2024 Media Coverage

Image by Ana Tantaros, Side A Photography


CLICK HERE FOR A LINK TO THE FULL IMAGE GALLERY

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