A small army has descended on downtown Baltimore with jackhammers, broomsticks and garden hoes in hopes of putting a new face on an aging business district.
For weeks, Department of Public Works crews have checked off items from a long list of projects to beautify downtown: repave Calvert and Charles streets, plant flowers along Pratt Street, repaint crosswalks, and repair curbs and sidewalks.
"We have some neat projects that we are doing to make downtown look good," said Public Works Director George G. Balog.
Soon to be history are ivy beds that became breeding grounds for rodents, poorly lighted stoplight areas and neglected overhead walks, Balog said.
Since summer, Balog has fielded complaints from the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, a quasi-public group that provides extra cleaning and security services. The group charged that the city was not doing enough to keep the district well-polished.
On Friday, Balog and his staff met with Laurie B. Schwartz, president of the partnership, to hammer out a plan for short-term cosmetic improvements and long-term capital improvements.
"We think that some of the downtown public area is showing its age," Schwartz said. "Business leaders have told us that an attractive and comfortable downtown will create a quality business environment."
At least for the next several months, public works crews will be drawn from other parts of the city to focus on downtown. Meanwhile, public works and Downtown Partnership representatives will identify bigger projects -- such as major landscaping, replacing footbridges and adding street furniture, banners and lights -- for future action.
Schwartz said an architectural firm is developing a design plan for downtown public areas.
Balog said major improvements are in the works: About $3 million on skywalk work at the Inner Harbor, $300,000 on road construction for Baltimore Street and $2.1 million on Hopkins Plaza.
Where the money will come from for long-term projects is being worked out. Preliminary estimates put the cost at about $5 million, Balog said.
In July, the Downtown Partnership tried to push through a proposal that would allow the organization to issue bonds for major downtown improvement projects. But the mayor balked, saying that the city would not be financially responsible if the organization failed to repay the money.
The partnership still is pursuing a way to borrow money for improvements. Schwartz said attorneys have been working "to more clearly define the kind of borrowing that is being contemplated."
The City Council will hold a public hearing on the matter. The planning commission has approved the proposal, despite objections from some downtown business owners who were leery about getting into debt.
Whatever the outcome, Schwartz said, the message from the partnership came through to city leaders: Downtown was looking shoddy and something needed to be done soon.
Pub Date: 10/08/96