Alternate ideas for parking problem

URBAN LANDSCAPE

Spaces: With preliminary plans for a garage rejected for downtown Baltimore, architects and others are suggesting solutions.

April 01, 1999|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

WILL BALTIMORE'S central business district ever have enough off-street parking?

That's the question property owners and tenants are asking now that Baltimore's Design Advisory Panel has rejected preliminary plans for a 624-car garage in the block bounded by Charles, Fayette, Lexington and St. Paul streets.

The 12-story garage is being planned by Murphy & Dittenhafer as part of an effort to add 3,600 or more parking spaces to the central business district.

Members of the review panel said they thought the proposed garage had too many levels and could add to traffic congestion in the immediate area during rush hour. They asked the architects to consider other possible solutions, such as putting some of the parking space underground.

The garage would be constructed in place of eight buildings -- 5, 7, 9 and 11 E. Lexington St. and 8-12, 14-18, 20-22 and 24 E. Fayette St. The designers proposed incorporating facades from 5 and 11 E. Lexington St. and 20-22 E. Fayette St., but the owners and tenants of those buildings would be displaced.

The garage architects are free to return with revised plans for the panel to consider.

Property owners and tenants have been discussing other ideas for adding parking in the area. Possible alternatives include: The former Hamburger's clothing store site: The vacant building at the southwest corner of Fayette and Charles streets has been targeted for conversion to a new Downtown Center for the Johns Hopkins University's School of Continuing Studies. But planners say it also could be developed as a parking garage, with Hopkins' new quarters on the upper levels.

"That's a logical alternative to demolishing some nice buildings on Fayette and Lexington streets," said Richard Burns of Design Collective, the architectural firm commissioned to prepare a master plan to guide development in the central business district.

The Hamburger's site could be redeveloped sooner and less expensively than the East Fayette site, Burns said, because no tenants would be displaced, no historic buildings would be demolished, and fewer property owners would be affected.

To create an efficient garage, however, planners might have to widen the site by closing a lane of Fayette Street and making that part of the construction site. They might need to acquire the Harbor Federal Savings Bank building on Fayette Street as well. Also, to reconstruct the property to include a garage would most likely result in a delay in the opening of the Hopkins Center, now set for fall 2000.

Stanley Gabor, dean of Hopkins' School of Continuing Studies, said he does not support the idea and noted that Hopkins has negotiated a lease to occupy the vacant building after it is reconstructed. Others say a garage on the Hamburger's site would put parking close to companies and institutions that need it -- including the Omni Inner-Harbor Hotel, tenants of the One Charles Center and Blaustein office buildings, and Hopkins itself -- without displacing businesses.

Center Plaza: City public works officials have suggested that the open space known as Center Plaza be converted to a 90-space parking lot. Owners of the property, Edison Properties, operate a garage beneath the plaza and don't want parking on top. They say Edison gave a perpetual easement to the city so the roof of the garage can be used as a public gathering space, not a parking lot.

David Kornblatt, developer of the St. Paul Plaza office tower and garage, said he believes the city should explore the idea of rebuilding Edison's garage beneath Center Plaza to create twice as many spaces as exist now. He envisions a garage that is partly underground and partly aboveground, with a park or some other public amenity on the roof.

Provident Bank site: Kornblatt also said the southwest corner of Calvert and Saratoga streets, where Provident Bank of Maryland at one point proposed building a tower, would be a good site for a large garage, especially because the land has been assembled for development.

Baltimore Arena: Preservationist Fred Shoken said he believes the best site for a large garage would be the land occupied by the Baltimore Arena at Hopkins Plaza and Baltimore Street -- if the arena is relocated.

These suggestions are signs that many people are focusing on the downtown parking problem this spring, said Lisa Raimundo, director of Business Development for the Downtown Partnership. "A lot of ideas are being evaluated," she said. "The bottom line is that city officials know there is a tremendous parking problem and they are doing everything they can to address it."

A public forum on the parking issue will be held at noon April 14 at the Johns Hopkins University's Downtown Center, Charles and Saratoga streets.

Pub Date: 4/01/99

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