To provide more parking for the south shore of Baltimore's Inner Harbor, designers hired by the city have suggested building a 300-space garage beneath Rash Field.
A one-level garage would serve attractions such as the Maryland Science Center, Rusty Scupper Restaurant, Inner Harbor Marina and the soon-to-open American Visionary Arts Museum on Key Highway. Because the garage would be underground, its surface would remain available for public use, and views of the city skyline from Key Highway would not be obstructed, say planners hired by Baltimore Development Corp.
A memorial to four Pride of Baltimore crew members who died when the goodwill vessel sank in 1986 likely would have to be relocated.
The underground garage was suggested this month during a meeting of Baltimore's Architectural Review Board, the advisory panel that examines designs for new downtown projects.
It was proposed by Design Collective of Baltimore and Martha Schwartz Inc. of Boston, the team that won a 1994 competition to redesign the Inner Harbor shoreline. In its competition entry, the group proposed that mounds of earth be sculpted into the shape of a giant crab on Rash Field.
Architect Richard Burns, a member of the design team, said it was one of many options for bringing life to Rash Field and the shore of the Inner Harbor. The crab sculpture still could be created atop the garage, he added.
The garage would take up most of the six-acre site now occupied by the field. Because the grade drops more than 10 feet from Key Highway to the Inner Harbor promenade, designers say, the garage could be built and concealed without costly excavation or the need for continuous pumping of water. All access could be provided from Key Highway.
Now, the only public off-street parking along the southern shore of the harbor is a 120-car public garage next to the Rusty Scupper on Key Highway.
A garage under Rash Field could accommodate 2 1/2 times the number of cars that the Rusty Scupper garage can handle, the designers said. If the Rash Field garage is built, they said, the restaurant garage should be torn down so the land could be used for public purposes -- possibly a new site for the popular Inner Harbor ice skating rink.
The garage next to the Rusty Scupper also blocks skyline views for people driving north on Key Highway, which is being rebuilt to serve as a major gateway to the city from Interstate 95.
The designers say they have not developed firm cost estimates for the underground garage, but other 300-car garages in the region have cost more than $1 million.
Redevelopment officials said when they launched the harbor design competition that the city wants to spend about $7.5 million to revamp the shoreline by 1997, the 200th anniversary of the city's founding.
No 'serious study' yet
Honora Freeman, president of Baltimore Development Corp., said the garage is a preliminary idea of the design team and is not yet under "serious study" by her agency.
She added that designers have been meeting with community groups and others to present concepts for the shoreline. If the architects formally recommend the garage and it appears to have strong community support, she said, her agency would ask the designers to explore it in greater detail.
Paul Hanle, executive director of the Maryland Science Center, said he welcomes any ideas that would attract visitors to the south side of the Inner Harbor.
Rebecca Hoffberger, director of the $7 million visionary arts museum under construction on Key Highway, said that building is expected to draw 175,000 visitors a year when it opens in November.
"I think it would be swell if there were more parking that isn't ugly and that truly disappears -- as long as it doesn't disrupt the open feeling around the Inner Harbor," she said.
Warning on parking needs
Review board members said they were intrigued by the idea of a garage beneath Rash Field, but warned that no one facility would meet the area's parking needs.
Even with a new garage, "parking is going to be at a premium," said review board member Mario L. Schack. "Three hundred spaces is nothing. It's a drop in the bucket."
Phoebe Stanton, another board member, said she wouldn't want two garages on the south shore. "The worst thing would be if the city built a new garage and saved the other one, too."
The existing garage poses an obstacle for pedestrians walking along the shoreline from Rash Field south toward HarborView and the Museum of Industry, said Robert Quilter, staff architect for the city's housing department.
"If the garage were removed, that would open up a lot of possibilities" for linking the south Baltimore shoreline with the Inner Harbor, he said.
Ed Prutzer, general manager of Rusty Scupper, said the restaurant management generally favors changes that improve the aesthetics of the Inner Harbor and bring more people and activity to the south side.
But, he said, "we're not sure that eliminating the present lot would accomplish that goal."