Beginning on January 1, 2018, visitors to Fells Point will notice cleaner streets, security patrol, and a few newly planted shrubs as they stroll down Broadway. As a part of Waterfront Partnership’s mission to create a “cleaner, greener future” for Baltimore, it has expanded its reach to one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods.
Waterfront Management Authority (WMA)—a business improvement district under the umbrella of Waterfront Partnership—provides maintenance, beautification, and security waterfront locations Harbor East, Harbor Point, and the Inner Harbor and will now do the same for Fells Point.
“This big expansion really addresses some of the root problems in Fells Point, like safety and cleanliness,” said Nick Johnson, president of Fells Point Main Street Association (FPMSA) and owner of Su Casa. “It demonstrates that the neighborhood is headed in a new direction.”
About a year ago, Fells Point business leaders initially wanted to develop a plan to address the rising concerns. But they knew the issues were too big to tackle without outside assistance.
“We needed to join and work with the local government to get where we wanted to be,” said Kelley Heuisler, owner of Poppy & Stella and president of Fells Point District. “It’s been proven that, in Baltimore, having these private-public partnerships is successful. It is a way to really expand upon the services individual communities need and Fells Point is certainly no exception to that.”
After vetting all possible options, FPMSA decided that working with Waterfront Partnership made the most sense—citing the success of WMA’s placement in Harbor East and Harbor Point.
In order to make the expansion possible, Councilman Zeke Cohen and Councilman Eric Costello introduced a bill to the city council in May, which would allow WMA to expand its boundaries to include commercial properties in Fells Point.
After the required hearings, the bill was passed and signed by Mayor Catherine Pugh in August and, then, 58 percent of Fells Point property owners needed to agree on the expansion. With 79 percent of the votes in support, Waterfront Partnership was able to move forward with the plan.
Although the majority of business and property owners in Fells Point support the expansion, the increase in annual tax bills was a factor for the opposition. Johnson estimates that the taxes for Su Casa may increase to roughly $2500 a year, but sees it as an investment for the long term.
“No one likes to have taxes or fees imposed,” said Waterfront Partnership executive director Laurie Schwartz. “At the end of the day, I believe the owners saw that the services they receive are well worth the amount they’ll pay. They’ll need the additional services to remain a competitive neighborhood in the city.”
Some business owners also believe that the city should be responsible for providing a safe, clean place for residents to visit and seeking outside sources to fulfill those needs should not be necessary.
“You can’t argue with that—it’s absolutely, 100-percent true,” Johnson said. “Yes, we shouldn’t have to pay above and beyond what we are already paying in taxes, but we have to think of it as an investment in our neighborhood.”
Although the expansion is focused on the commercial portion of Fells Point, some residents with homes within neighborhood boundaries will benefit from the improvements. Schwartz said that some have even gone so far as to call Waterfront Partnership to offer financial contributions for the expansion.
“This expansion is about giving the people that come a better experience,” Heuisler said. “We’re all very excited about what this means overall for Fells Point—it’s going to be huge.”