Report seeks new city 'renaissance'

URBAN LANDSCAPE

August 25, 1994|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun Staff Writer

What's the best way to "jump- start" Baltimore's renaissance?

How about running an east-west branch of the state's light rail line through Lexington Market? Or allowing cars back on the downtown stretch of Howard Street where they're now banned? Or transforming the Lower Jones Falls into a park with jogging trails and biking paths?

Those are a few of the suggestions outlined in "The Renaissance Continues," a provocative report that was presented to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke earlier this month.

Prepared by the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the 62-page document consists almost entirely of citizens' ideas for making physical improvements throughout downtown Baltimore.

The ideas were generated during six "town meetings" that the AIA held over the last year to gather public comment about improving downtown Baltimore. The meetings were a follow-up to a 1991 report that outlined a strategy for downtown development over the next 20 years.

The AIA's Urban Design Committee has met regularly to propose ways to implement ideas for the six renewal areas targeted in 1991: Mount Vernon, Mount Royal-Penn Station, the financial district, Inner Harbor, the east side of downtown and University Center. A meeting was held in each area to give property owners, merchants and others a chance to react to the architects' suggestions and make their own.

The proposals range from "big ideas," such as construction of a 60- to 70-story telecommunications and office tower on the site of the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, to small-scale recommendations such as widening the sidewalks along Conway Street to reinforce the link between Harborplace and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Many of the ideas involve changing traffic patterns. For the Mount Vernon area, the Urban Design Committee prescribed rerouting rush-hour traffic from St. Paul and Calvert streets to the Jones Falls Expressway and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Editing out mistakes was another recurring theme. The architects suggested that the Baltimore Arena be torn down to ** make way for a town square, and that elevated portions of the Jones Falls Expressway be replaced with an at-grade boulevard.

The town meetings drew more than 1,000 people. The architects staged them as a way to keep urban design issues out in the open.

"It is our concern that these ideas not just sit on the shelf but become blueprints that get implemented," said Nikolaus Philipsen, co-chairman of the Urban Design Committee.

Mr. Philipsen said the AIA will sponsor a public workshop this fall to rank all the ideas according to priority and reconcile conflicting recommendations.

Meeting with the architects in City Hall this month, Mr. Schmoke assured them his administration is working to implement as many ideas as it can.

"It is true that we have not been able to move forward with some of the sexiest items, particularly some of the big-ticket items, because we have not been able to pay for the ticket," he said. "One is bringing the Jones Falls Expressway down to street level. That captured a lot of people's imaginations, but it also needs a massive infusion of funds."

One project the city is working on, he said, involves installing better directional signs around the city in time for the 1996 opening of the Baltimore Convention Center's $150 million expansion. The mayor also noted that the Mass Transit Administration is studying the feasibility of reopening Howard Street to automobile traffic.

Flower Mart decision

The Flower Mart, the May festival that is traditionally held around the Washington Monument, definitely will move to War Memorial Plaza in 1995.

Mayor Schmoke said the event's sponsor, the Women's Civic League, has notified his office that it intends to move the event next year, despite requests from the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Improvement Association and others that it reconsider. But he added that the move away from Mount Vernon is for one year only, at this point.

"It's a done deal for next year," he said. "We'll see what happens after that."

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