Re-Inventing Downtown Baltimore

June 05, 1991

Rightly or wrongly, Kurt L. Schmoke has been suspected of not being the same kind of "bricks and mortar" mayor as William Donald Schaefer. For that reason alone, his response to a strategy recommendation for downtown that landed on his desk yesterday will be closely watched.

If Mr. Schmoke wins re-election this year, "The Renaissance Continues: a 20-year strategy for downtown Baltimore" offers guide posts for him to put his stamp on the city during the next four years. The question is whether he has the imagination and inventiveness to seize the momentum that the opening of a new baseball stadium and light-rail line will bring to Baltimore in 1992.

The task force report is a chock full of ideas. Some are costly (like replacing the elevated Jones Falls Expressway downtown with an at-grade boulevard); others merely require political courage (like preventing the sale of liquor miniatures and chemical wines in downtown residential areas). Common to all of the ideas is the goal of turning the downtown into a more pleasant and workable area in which to live or do business.

The report suggests redefining downtown. Rather than including just the 300-acre central business district, it should encompass a 1,200-acre area bounded by Penn Station on the north, the Jones Falls Expressway on the east, Key Highway on the south and Martin Luther King Boulevard on the east. For planning purposes, that area would be divided into six components: Inner Harbor, Business Center, University Center (near the University of Maryland professional schools), Mount Vernon, Mount Royal/Penn Station and East Side (near the state penal institutions). Yet for service purposes, those components would be compressed into a joint police, sanitation and housing inspection district.

We think this is a promising approach.

Another key recommendation calls for a comprehensive rezoning of the entire downtown. That way, the allowable building density could be decreased or increased in order to emphasize each area's character and economic mission, guiding new high-rises to areas where they should be built and channeling new residential development to neighborhoods that would benefit from it.

This, we think, is another excellent idea.

The strategy report is not a master plan but a collection of proposals. "We put in everything, except for those ideas that seemed ridiculous," said Walter Sondheim Jr., chairman of the effort that involved more than 300 people.

We urge Mayor Schmoke to embrace these exciting ideas. It is time for Baltimore's downtown to expand beyond the Inner Harbor and the central business district. The renaissance must continue.

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