Giant crab creeping closer at Inner Harbor

March 11, 1994|By Edward Gunt | Edward Gunt,Sun Staff Writer

And now, "The Crab."

Having launched the Columbus Center and the Children's Museum, the Schmoke administration is poised to present "Blue Crab Park" as the Inner Harbor's coming attraction.

On the same bill: "Natural History Spiral," "Info/Picnic Park," "Science Playground" and the "Wet & Wild Water Park and Skating Rink."

Those ideas came a step closer to reality yesterday when the Baltimore Development Corp. announced plans to hire the design team that proposed them. The team's assignment will be to guide a $7.5 million overhaul of 20 acres of downtown Baltimore's most prominent shoreline.

A joint venture of Martha Schwartz Inc. of Boston and Design Collective Inc. of Baltimore is the winner of the national competition, held this year to generate ideas for strengthening Rash Field and the west shore of the Inner Harbor as a public attraction.

"This is an exciting opportunity to enhance the Inner Harbor experience and create a new destination," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said.

The team's boldest suggestion is to turn Rash Field into a giant crab-shaped bas relief. It would be made of a series of grassy knolls, mounded so that people would be able to discern the crab only if they stood at the top of Federal Hill.

The team also proposes a 1,200-foot-long "neighborhood walk" with facades of Baltimore-style rowhouses and marble steps and a "cultural history" picnic grove with a different Baltimore theme for each picnic table, including a "John Waters Scratch 'n' Sniff spice table," in honor of the McCormick & Co. spice plant that was razed in 1988.

A skating rink would be built near the Maryland Science Center and would become a water park during the summer. A "natural history spiral" on the west shore would take visitors from the harbor's brick promenade to water level, with information about the area along the way.

The designers also recommend turning the stretch of Conway Street between Oriole Park at Camden Yards and Harborplace into a pedestrian-oriented thoroughfare lined by street lamps topped by translucent blue crabs. The walkway would feature a striped paving pattern made of "two shades of blue green concrete mixed with oyster shells."

The Inner Harbor improvements are expected to take shape in time for Baltimore's Bicentennial in 1997.

But the city's selection of a design team does not necessarily mean that all -- or any -- of the proposals will be carried out, officials said.

Shubroto Bose, director of architecture and urban design for the development corporation, explained that the competition was held to select a design team, not specific plans. The proposed ideas will be studied for merit and financial feasibility, and community representatives will be consulted before any work begins.

Martha Schwartz and Design Collective topped four other contenders in the six-week competition. Ms. Schwartz, an internationally renowned environmental artist who sculpts public landscapes the way others work with clay, was elated.

"The Inner Harbor is Baltimore's front yard," she said from Boston yesterday. "When I went up in Design Collective's office [overlooking the Inner Harbor] and saw the site from there, my knees went weak. We have a chance to energize the Inner Harbor and add to the centripetal force of the city."

Mr. Bose said the city's design jury selected Martha Schwartz and Design Collective because the team's ideas were the most imaginative and "showed more possibilities" than any other groups' suggestions. "They were picked for their creativity and vitality," he added.

If the city cannot reach agreement on a contract with the first-place team they will negotiate with the runners-up in the order that they finished, Mr. Bose said.

A public planning session will be scheduled within six weeks so that interested parties can meet with the designers and discuss their suggestions for the shoreline, he said.

Hargreaves Associates of San Francisco placed second in the competition, and a team headed by EDAW Inc of Northern Virginia was ranked third. The other competitors, who were not ranked, were Schnadelbach Associates of New York and SITE Inc. of New York.

The jury included Walter Sondheim, senior adviser to the Greater Baltimore Committee, art consultant John Beardsley, architect George Notter and landscape architects James Urban and Elissa Rosenberg.

One issue that the design team still has to resolve is determining exactly how to turn Rash Field into a giant blue crab. At one point they joked about using crab grass but quickly ruled that out.

Ms. Schwartz said she is still deciding what to do. "We'd like to find a variety of grass with a bluer cast than the grass on Federal Hill so there will be a contrast between the two," she said.

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