Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke wants to stop traffic in downtown Baltimore today to help jump-start the city's renaissance.
City officials plan to close north- and southbound lanes on President Street for as long as 10 minutes about 10: 30 a.m. to launch a four-month planning effort designed to strengthen links between the central business district and neighborhoods to the east.
Traffic will be closed in both directions so as many as 150 invited guests can hold hands across President Street to form a human bridge, symbolizing efforts to connect both sides of the street through better planning.
But some restaurateurs in Little Italy warn the event could backfire on the planners by snarling midmorning traffic.
"It sounds crazy," said Ted Julio, the owner of Ristorante Della Notte at President Street and Eastern Avenue. "Why in the world would they want to do that? How are people supposed to get around?"
Frank Velleggia, owner of Velleggia's Restaurant at 829 E. Pratt St., said he wasn't troubled by the street closing because it would be relatively brief. He supports the planning effort: "It's good to make some comprehensive plans for the area," he said.
President Street was chosen for the kickoff, planners say, because it seems to be the dividing line between the bustle of the Inner Harbor and the less vibrant properties to the east, including the now-shuttered Baltimore City Life Museums.
"People think downtown stops at President Street," said Andy Frank, senior development officer for Baltimore Development Corp. "It's very much of an edge. We want to break down the barriers -- real and perceived."
The goal of the $100,000 urban design effort, organizers say, is to revitalize sections of East Baltimore by knitting them more closely to the Inner Harbor, the symbolic heart of the city, and to coax out-of-town visitors to stay longer by extending the sense of vitality beyond the Inner Harbor.
Frank said President Street has been successful at getting cars in and out of downtown -- but often at the expense of pedestrians.
While the city has completed a number of planning studies that focus on one side of President Street or the other, he said, the study represents the first effort to look at both sides of the street at once and to include interests representing neighborhoods, institutions, museums, businesses and government.
The Inner Harbor operates very much like EPCOT Center in Orlando, with attractions linked by one walkable route along the water's edge, said David M. Pittenger, executive director of the National Aquarium in Baltimore.
To get tourists to stay in Baltimore longer, he said, that route needs to encompass attractions outside the Inner Harbor circle, such as the $30 million Port Discovery children's museum planned for Market Place and the attractions along Museum Row.
"To the extent that we can have better connections between attractions," he said, "the better off we'll all be."
Kathy Dwyer Southern, executive director of Port Discovery, said the study will help fledgling institutions such as hers by showing how newcomers make connections with more successful attractions that are already open.
"We think it's critical to the development of Market Place and the children's museum," she said.
The study area is bounded roughly by Gay and Fayette streets, Central Avenue and the harbor shoreline.
Landmarks include the old city fish market, the McKim Center Meeting House, the Jewish Museum of Maryland and the Flag House Courts public housing property.
The $100,000 needed to cover planning expenses is coming from public and private sources, starting with $50,000 from the Housing Authority of Baltimore.
Over the next several months, a design team headed by Cho Wilks Benn Architects Inc. of Baltimore will prepare a master plan for the study area.
The architects also will redesign Market Place between Pratt and Baltimore streets to encourage Inner Harbor visitors to wander northward from the harbor. Their report is due in December.
Pub Date: 8/05/97