Visitors center supported for city museums site Urban designers issue report on revitalizing downtown's east side

June 19, 1998|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

The former Baltimore City Life Museums campus would become the site of a new visitors center for downtown Baltimore, if city officials follow the advice of urban designers hired to recommend ways to enliven downtown's east side.

The visitors center at Lombard and Front streets would be connected by a pedestrian bridge to the $32 million children's museum under construction on Market Place. The bridge would cross President Street and serve as a gateway to the Inner Harbor.

A 400-car garage would be constructed nearby to encourage tourists to park and explore areas beyond the Inner Harbor, including historic sites in Jonestown and a proposed "water park" alongthe Lower Jones Falls.

These and several dozen other suggestions are contained in a report that will be released today by the East Side Task Force, a private group working with the city to strengthen connections between the Inner Harbor tourism district and the attractions and neighborhoods east of downtown.

The total cost is not clear, and there is no guarantee that all of the recommendations will be followed. But they add up to a revitalization plan that "helps establish a vision for what the area can become," said Andrew Frank, senior development officer for Baltimore Development Corp., an agency that has worked closely with the task force.

The group is unveiling its recommendations during the noontime opening of the International Festival, which moved this year from War Memorial Plaza to Market Place.

Widening the median on Market Place to 65 feet and staging festivals there to draw people to the area is one of the report's key recommendations.

Others include:

Rebuild the Flag House Courts public housing complex to contain a mix of subsidized and market-rate residences, and incorporate land beyond the current Flag House Courts boundaries in any redevelopment.

Designate Jonestown a national historic district and create a "heritage trail" to link Eastside landmarks.

Create public gathering spaces on Market Place between Pratt and Water streets and in Historic Jonestown, between Exeter and Albemarle streets, to encourage pedestrian movement eastward from the Inner Harbor.

Redesign the east and west banks of the Jones Falls to transform a landscaped highway into a pedestrian-oriented park that celebrates the "urban ecology" of the falls.

The study area is bounded by Pratt, Gay and Fayette streets and Central Avenue. Cho, Wilks & Benn Architects headed the design team.

The task force launched the study, which cost $95,000, because it knew the east side of downtown was due for sweeping changes and wanted to have an urban design plan in place to guide future investment, Frank said.

The Brokerage at 34 Market Place, the City Life Museums complex and the Baltimore City Community College's Inner Harbor campus are among the properties targeted for redevelopment.

The report's 38 recommendations range in cost from $15,000 for a new traffic signal to $5 million for a garage.

The plan also recommends changes in land use and transportation patterns and upgrading of public spaces.

Funding sources have been identified to carry out much of the work, such as motor vehicle revenue funds targeted for the reconstruction of Market Place.

Some ideas are moving ahead, including a plan to create a business park along Fayette Street that received City Council approval this spring.

One of the differences between this plan and previous ones for the area, Frank said, is that in this case "there are resources to implement it."

Pub Date: 6/19/98

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