Sidewalks, landscaping to bloom this spring

5-year, $18 million plan to begin in Baltimore

March 24, 2000|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

The streets of Charm City will blossom with jackhammers this spring as Baltimore begins an $18 million project to install brick sidewalks, plant trees, raise antique-style lamps, place benches and grow flowers downtown.

The beautification effort by the city and a group of downtown property owners, expected to take more than five years, is designed to convince people that the city is a lovely place to stroll and shop.

"This is not just window dressing," said Michelle Whelley, interim president of the nonprofit Downtown Partnership. "This project is an absolutely critical part of building a healthy business environment and encouraging visitors to come to downtown Baltimore."

The work will begin in May as laborers install the brick sidewalks along portions of Commerce, South and Redwood streets. The second phase will begin in August, when workers transform the sidewalks of Charles Street from Lombard to Saratoga streets.

During the next few summers, flowers and trees will sprout along some 40 blocks downtown -- including Mt. Vernon, parts of Calvert Street and Market Center.

"We would be delighted to see this happen," said Annelle Landefeld, an owner of Sir Speedy Printing at 115 N. Charles St. "Downtown Baltimore needs as much beautification as it can get, especially as you move away from the Inner Harbor."

The construction is being funded by the city and business owners, who will pay 10 percent of the cost in front of their properties if a majority of the owners in their area want the project, according to the downtown partnership.

The Urban and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee of the Baltimore City Council last night held a hearing on an ordinance that would allow the city to slap liens on the properties of owners who did not help pay.

The fees for property owners will be about $4 per square foot of sidewalk in front of their stores. This would be about $1,200 for a 30-foot-wide building, with the city allowing owners to spread out payments over 10 years.

This obligation is similar to what city law requires of property owners, said Robert Dengler, director of capital projects for the Downtown Partnership. The city charges owners for the cost of repairing sidewalks in front of businesses, Dengler said.

If 40 percent of the property owners in a section of downtown do not want the new sidewalks, they can file a protest and the project will not proceed in their area, according to the Downtown Partnership.

The organization does not think many will object, because they sent out notices to 1,400 downtown property owners and received no complaints, according to Richard Cross, spokesman for the partnership.

Mary Brown, a manager at the 120-year-old Woman's Industrial Exchange at 333 N. Charles St., said that her organization is willing to pay about $120 a year for landscaping that could make walking downtown much more pleasant.

"We have a very modest budget, but this is not an unreasonable burden," said Brown. "I think that anything that makes Charles Street a little more attractive will help the businesses on the street."

Organizers of the beautification effort promise not to block the entrances to any stores during construction.

The city Department of Public Works will be resurfacing downtown streets at the same time the Downtown Partnership is replacing the sidewalks. But the city will work on one lane at a time and not close the streets, said Kurt Kocher, a department spokesman.

The improvements will include the installation of newspaper box corrals, steel devices that group the vending machines in clusters.

Brick and concrete-tile sidewalks will replace the cracked and worn walkways now common downtown. In areas with enough light and room for roots, the partnership will plant trees.

After fixing up the Commerce Street area and lower Charles Street this summer, the organization will work on Calvert Street from Baltimore to Lombard, Baltimore Street from Calvert to Frederick and the block surrounding the Maryland Historical Society.

Most of the rest of downtown will follow over the next five years.

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