Renovations For 21st Century

October 26, 1990|By Edward Gunts

A mile-long stretch of the Jones Falls Expressway from Mount Royal Avenue to Fayette Street should be studied for possible demolition as a way of freeing up a new area of Baltimore for tTC redevelopment, according to a citizens group seeking ways to promote downtown growth.

The group also recommends that Mount Vernon be "downzoned" so property owners won't have an incentive to tear down existing buildings and replace them with larger structures.

And Charles Street ought to be converted back to two-way traffic, panel members say.

Those are a few of the ideas in a 62-page document released yesterday by the Urban Design and Development Technical Advisory Committee, one of several groups involved in Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's 18-month effort to develop a "strategy for the progressive development of downtown Baltimore."

FOR THE RECORD - The spelling of C. William Struever has been corrected for the archive database. See microfilm for original story.

The recommendations were presented to a 35-member citizen's advisory panel that is working with a city management committee to prepare a final report for the mayor by next spring.

The urban design report has not been officially endorsed by the city management committee and has no independent standing, according to Robert Keller, executive director of the Greater Baltimore Committee and management team member.

At the same time, he said, its completion is an important step of the 18-month planning effort, which is two-thirds complete.

In outlining the recommendations yesterday, Stanton Eckstut, a nationally prominent architectural consultant hired to advise the urban design committee, said the group tried to come up with ideas that build on what is already in place, rather than alter it drastically.

"What we put forward is a plan that really celebrates what is already here," he said. "If anything, it just has to become more like Baltimore, not like someplace else."

Much of the discussion yesterday focused on the idea of razing the elevated section of the Jones Falls Expressway east of downtown and replacing it with a landscaped "urban boulevard" that would link up with Jones Falls Boulevard to the south.

Cost estimates for such a project have been $200 million or more, and no funding is in place. But by doing so, planners say, the city would free up a new "East Side" development district that could be even larger than the 33-acre Charles Center renewal area created in the 1960s. Such a district could be used to steercompanies that might otherwise move to the suburbs and also to take development pressure off the central business district, Mr. Eckstut said.

One advisory committee member, Walters Art Gallery director Robert Bergman, suggested that instead of building a boulevard, planners might want to consider putting the roadway underground so there is no eastern "edge" to the downtown at all.

Other suggestions were to:

* Identify two primary streets as a "cross-shaped structuring device" for future development: Charles Street as the main north-south street and symbol of the old Baltimore; and Pratt Street as the main east-west street and symbol of the new Baltimore.

* Restudy Pratt Street and possibly "repair" certain buildings to make the street more walkable and pleasant for pedestrians and not so much an auto-oriented thoroughfare.

* Create a new public space for downtown, possibly near the Camden Yards stadium, that could be the 21st century equivalent of Mount Vernon Square in the 19th century and the Inner Harbor in the 20th century.

* Study ways to reinforce the theme of the Mount Royal area as a "cultural park," including creating additional green space and possible construction of a 3,500 seat performing arts center.

* Restudy Charles Center, particularly its west side, to blend it better with the rest of the city and activate its open spaces.

The next important step will be to assign a priority to the recommendations and determine how the work might be funded, said developer C. William Struever.

Many of the recommendations can be implemented immediately if they have the support of the city, Mr. Eckstut said. "There are a lot of things that can be done right away."

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