Investing in downtown Baltimore is not easy, says P. David Bramble, managing partner of MCB Real Estate. But the projects his company has been taking on are important because the downtown core is the bellwether for not just the city, but for the region.
Speaking at the Baltimore Smart Business Dealmakers Conference, he says MCB, in the last few years, has invested some $500 million in and around Baltimore. But unless everyone who is interested in what's happening regionally is focused on what's happening downtown, every investment being made is at risk.
"It's not just a deal, it's a mission," Bramble says. "It's a mission to show that the trajectory of Baltimore is up. That there's lots of things happening in Baltimore and in and around the region that are exciting. And everyone's got to realize that this is how you focus for us as folks who are investing and creating economic opportunities."
Shelonda Stokes, president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore says investing in Baltimore is an investment in its people.
"While you have investors, definitely the return is important, but to be able to invest in a way that you're also making a difference and can see that," Stokes says.
She says the waterfront city has many amazing assets, but it's not yet priced at its highest value, which gives investors an opportunity to get in and make money.
Brandon Chasen, founder and CEO of Chasen Companies, which owns, builds, and leases a portfolio of luxury multifamily, commercial, and single-family properties, says Baltimore has provided an opportunity in value creation.
"We have this negative stigma that's the public perception of Baltimore, which my business partner and I joke about a little bit because it keeps most of those international and outside investors away," Chasen says. "But us local Baltimoreans know firsthand what's been going on in the city and have watched that opportunity really grow around us."
Already the city has momentum with some major projects, Stokes says, such as the Inner Harbor project, a $150 million arena project, and the Lexington Market. She says recently the Downtown Partnership brought in the Urban Land Institute to help create a blueprint for reimagining downtown. The pointed out that the city has tremendous assets — the water, airport proximity — that could make it a top-tier city.
"Part of it was the investment that we had, what they can see upcoming, but it was also helping us figure out how you plug those holes," she says. "How do you look at what's coming?"
Additionally, she says downtown has to adjust since COVID, since now many of those who were working there now work from home. That's created a shift not just in the people traffic, but in the taxes being paid. But, the city has a fast-growing residential population, which means it needs to leverage that.
Some of that could be helped by a $10 million award from the state. If the state likes the progress, the Downtown Partnership could get another $10 million next year and the year after.
Because of such investments, Bramble sees a huge opportunity.
"We are not properly priced," he says. "There is a mispricing going on in Baltimore and it's an enormous economic opportunity."
What he says many needed to see is the state and the city agreeing to lead the project and commit money to downtown development. It helps people see that this is going to happen.
"It's going to happen big time and it's going to be extremely profitable for everyone who's part of the mix," he says.