For years, local developers have touted Baltimore's Inner Harbor East community as one of the best places in Maryland for housing, offices, shops and restaurants.
But an independent panel of experts has gone a step further: They say it's one of the best in the country.
The development plan for Inner Harbor East, the $350 million community under construction between the Inner Harbor and Fells Point, is one of five projects selected to receive an Honor Award for Urban Design from the American Institute of Architects.
The award will be presented to the project's lead architect, Ehrenkrantz & Eckstut of New York, during the AIA convention in Atlanta next May.
"Inner Harbor East is a highly sophisticated example of how to create mixed use communities that work, by planning for integration of residential and commercial uses," the jurors said. "This extremely well-done, three-dimensional and multi-developer plan sets forth guidelines for creating an entire neighborhood, with public pieces of infrastructure setting the stage."
The development team for Inner Harbor East, a joint venture of Gilbane Properties of Rhode Island and the Paterakis family of Baltimore, has been working for more than a decade to develop the 20-acre parcel south of Little Italy.
Construction is nearly finished on $20 million worth of roads, sidewalks, light fixtures and other public improvements. A 200-slip marina opened last summer, and a "marina house" and restaurant will open next spring. A $12 million, nine-story apartment building designed by Design Collective will be constructed starting next year if funding comes through.
Members of the development team hope the coveted AIA award, bestowed by nationally prominent designers with no ties to Baltimore, will help the community take off in the second half of the 1990s. "I think it will help the project a great deal," said architect Stan Eckstut. "People always want to be associated with an award-winning project."
Michael Culbert, senior development manager for Gilbane, said the award is also a tribute to city officials who worked with the developers to get the project under way.
"It's more than an idea, now that the streets and amenities are nearing completion," he said. "The city has created a tremendous opportunity for itself."
When complete in 10 to 15 years, Inner Harbor East will contain at least 800 residences, 600,000 square feet of office space and a 325-room hotel. Building heights will range from four stories for townhouses near the waterfront, to 18 stories for office buildings two blocks from the harbor. But the community's most memorable features are likely to be the public spaces now taking shape, including a landscaped traffic circle, a park and a sweeping waterfront esplanade.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, Mr. Eckstut and then-partner Alexander Cooper gained widespread acclaim for planning the 92-acre Battery Park City community in lower Manhattan. Their partnership ended in 1986, when Mr. Eckstut joined his current firm. Mr. Cooper, as it turned out, was chairman of the AIA jury that chose Inner Harbor East for an award.
Mr. Eckstut said the Inner Harbor East plan is even more sophisticated and flexible than the one for Battery Park City, and more relevant as a model for other cities. He is particularly proud of its ability to mix cars and people, its variety of public spaces, and the fact that it was designed to be "market driven."
"It's the most meaningful and influential project I've done, in terms of my current work," he said of Inner Harbor East.
"It's much more about being part of a city, and it's full of ideas about the nature of urbanism in America and the variety of places that can be created at the water's edge. It's almost a cookbook of what you can do. It shows we have not given up on public spaces in America. Now we just have to let the market build this thing."
Another Maryland waterfront development will get a boost tomorrowwhen Gov. William Donald Schaefer and other state officials break ground for a $3.7 million visitors center for Sailwinds Park in Cambridge. Marks Thomas and Associates of Baltimore designed the building, which will feature a tile mosaic of the lower Eastern Shore when it opens in 1996.