Market Place plan suggests a canal with boats and cafes $12 million remedy for area's 'crisis'

September 16, 1993|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

Baltimore's Market Place may be rebuilt at a cost of up to $12.5 million to resemble a canal, complete with a fleet of old-time barges and fishing schooners doubling as vendors' kiosks and outdoor cafes.

Nautical flags atop the boats and a wide array of food and crafts would bring a burst of color to the corridor, and cranes with large banners would be positioned at each end of the "canal" to call attention to nearby attractions.

Alongside the real vessels would be a series of beached "ghost boats" -- cast replicas of oyster tonguing vessels, banana barges and other work boats that once plied the waters of Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

This unusual combination of a floating open-air market, urban sculpture garden and nautical history museum is the city's newest idea for bringing people to Market Place, where the Baltimore Fish market nightclub complex and the Brokerage retail center have failed.

The Market Place area "is considerably dead at this point. In fact, it's in kind of an economic crisis," New York architect James Wines told members of Baltimore's Architectural Review Board yesterday during a presentation of the plan. "Clearly, something dramatic has to be done."

The canal was designed by a joint venture of Mr. Wines's firm, SITE Projects Inc., and Anshen + Allen of Baltimore. Baltimore Development Corp., a quasi-public agency that oversees downtown development, hired the firms earlier this year to propose creative ways to link the Inner Harbor with the Children's Museum proposed for the Brokerage complex three blocks inland.

Within a block of Market Place, several other major redevelopment projects are either under construction or on the drawing board. They include the $160 million Columbus Center, the $32 million Sports Center USA complex planned for the Pier 4 Power Plant, expansion of the Baltimore City Community College and a Metro station that is due to open within two years.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke toured the area last week in a highly publicized search for ways to keep alive the Inner Harbor development momentum. At the time, each said he was intrigued by the plans for the canal.

"The canal concept, as a draw for the Market Place area, creates a new energy that can build on the excitement created by our plans for the new children's museum, Columbus Center and Sports Center USA," Mayor Schmoke said. "These new developments will significantly change Baltimore's urban landscape, creating a transformation almost as dramatic as the initial Inner Harbor development."

Mr. Schaefer contends that the city needs more one-of-a-kind attractions to bring people downtown.

"I really liked it," he said. "My only reservation is about the cost, but I think it's very important. You have to do something imaginative to bring people downtown. You have to have a vision."

In the mid-1980s, when he was mayor of Baltimore, Mr. Schaefer floated the idea of bringing boats and barges with merchants and cafes to a three-block stretch of the Lower Jones Falls, just east of Market Place and the old wholesale fish market. Predicting that the area could become a local version of San Antonio's popular Riverwalk, he even dubbed it Fallswalk. But the boats and barges never materialized.

Mr. Wines and architect Ed Hord of Anshen + Allen say they believe projects such as the children's museum will have a better chance of success if Market Place itself can be turned into an attraction.

The "canalwalk" is intended to draw visitors who now come to the Inner Harbor but don't venture north of Pratt Street.

"This is an industrial sculpture park," said Mr. Wines, who has received international acclaim for his work as an environmental artist and architect. "It really becomes an urban collage. The idea is to make this more like a Paris street, where you can eat and drink and sit at a cafe. . . . We're making this area an extension of the Inner Harbor."

Well known as the designer of the Best catalog showrooms, SITE has also designed waterfront parks and children's play areas. These include Ross's Landing in Chattanooga and Highway 86 in Vancouver.

Mr. Wines explained that the Market Place project is not really a navigable canal but two 3-foot-deep fountains containing floating vessels that become retail kiosks. Near the children's museum, he said, there would be a 1-foot-deep canal, shallow enough for children to wade in, and kid-scaled boats.

The street would remain open to two-way traffic. But it would be reconfigured with the median strip removed and car traffic shifted to the east side of the street bed, close to the Candler Building, leaving room on the west side for the pedestrian-oriented canal and exhibit of "ghost boats."

The design is meant to celebrate the city's maritime heritage. "The main theme of Baltimore is the harbor -- the slips of water and the boats. At one time they penetrated the city much deeper, so we thought we'd basically resurrect this concept," he said. "In a sense, we're putting back what was there."

The designers are trying to identify funding sources for the project, which could be built in increments.

One suggestion, they say, is to seek federal money available for transportation-related "enhancements" under the 1991 Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act.

The designers say the commercial space may also be put under the management of a retail leasing expert who might help cover maintenance and repair costs.

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