While expressing optimism about the future of Baltimore City, a panel of real estate experts explained that workers need to return to their offices, consumers still value brick-and-mortar locations and Harborplace remains a critical piece to any long-term revival downtown. The panel, part of the Baltimore Business Journal’s Best in Real Estate Awards event co- sponsored by NAIOP Maryland, included Ivy Dench-Carter, senior vice president of development at Pennrose; Bob Manekin, managing director at JLL and Robin McBride Zeigler, senior executive vice president and COO at Cedar Realty Trust. The panel was moderated by the BBJ’s Real Estate Reporter Melody Simmons.  

“I cannot overstate enough the importance of restarting Harborplace to energize Baltimore City, as every downtown area needs compelling amenities and a reason for people to visit,” Manekin said. “Even if you don’t visit the downtown area every day, it is important to establish a critical mass of amenities in one location and create a central gathering spot. Harborplace served that role in the past and it is important to correct that situation. I expect office workers to return to work in the third and fourth quarters of this year and, at that point, companies will have a better handle on their real estate needs and will start sorting things out. Everyone seems to have hit the pause button for now. The recent decision to move people from State Center to the CBD will certainly make a significant impact to lower vacancy rates and add more vibrancy.”     

“As much as we continue to hear about consumers relying on ecommerce for their shopping needs, people still visited grocery stores during the pandemic,” Zeigler stated. “The proposed infrastructure bill will help drive the economy, shore up consumers, spur jobs and increase spending. While there remain many retail vacancies, developers are focusing on the low-hanging fruit to add new stores as soon as possible. Omnichannel marketing seems to be the solution for many retailers as they position stores as the place to purchase and retrieve items acquired online.”  

“The most important thing is for workers to get back to their offices and back on the street to support our businesses and the rest of Baltimore City,” said Dench-Carter. “Last year was among our best years ever in terms of closings. The City of Baltimore, Governor Hogan and the Department of Community Housing deserve a great deal of credit for keeping construction moving during the pandemic. But there are still many challenges in front of us.”