Visions for valley revealed

URBAN LANDSCAPE

Museum: A task force on development wants to turn a city maintenance and office building into a museum that would attract visitors to the Jones Falls Valley.

July 06, 2000|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

FOR YEARS, the building at 1501 St. Paul St. has served as a maintenance facility and offices for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City.

But it could be an ideal site for a museum or related attraction, according to a local group that gathered recently to look at development possibilities along the Jones Falls Valley.

The building would lend itself to conversion to a new home for the Fire Museum of Maryland, now located in Lutherville, and expansion space for the Baltimore Streetcar Museum on Falls Road, planners suggested last month during a daylong brainstorming session to generate ideas for land along the Fallsway.

Just east of Penn Station, the St. Paul Street building is large enough to accommodate both museums and could be connected by rail to the current streetcar museum property on Falls Road, they added.

"Our idea was that that building is too grand and too prominent a structure to be used for its current use," said Paul Dombrowski, director of planning and design for the Baltimore Development Corp. and a member of the team that proposed the museums. A representative of the streetcar museum, which is located in a flood zone, also was on the team.

"Given that it's next to Penn Station, we thought [a museum] would be a natural," Dombrowski said. "And it would help create more of a magnet for tourism, to get people into the area."

The idea for a combined streetcar and fire museum was proposed during a public forum June 17 at Loyola College in Maryland. More than 100 community residents, business owners, developers, architects and others broke into 14 teams that came up with specific suggestions for various areas along the valley.

A consultant group headed by A.B. Associates of Baltimore will use the ideas to create a master plan that can guide development efforts along a four-mile stretch of the valley, from Penn Station north to the city line, for the next 40 years or more.

The museums suggestion surprised housing officials, who said they have no plans to move.

The maintenance facility is one of several publicly owned properties that planning session participants identified for redevelopment.

They noted that the Jones Falls corridor became a repository for warehouses, a salt dome, parking lots and unsightly storage yards over the years because the land was not in high demand for anything else.

But now that public and private groups are re-evaluating the corridor's potential, planners say, those uses could be moved to other parts of the city to make way for new development that would be more consistent with other revitalization efforts along the corridor.

Since the Jones Falls Expressway was constructed, "the valley became a back alley of the city, and people treated it as such," said planner Al Barry, of A.B. Associates. "Part of what we want to do is identify areas that might be turned over for higher and better uses."

The St. Paul Street property covering 1.6 acres is in a prime location to become an attraction because it is one block east of Penn Station, which is already a gateway to the city for thousands of visitors each month. It's also within walking distance of the proposed site of a new Greyhound bus station and garage, the lot at Charles and Lanvale streets.

Constructed by the U. S. Postal Service as a sorting station for packages that arrived in Baltimore by train, the structure was known for many years as the Railway Express building. Now owned by the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, it has been leased for $1 a year to the Housing Authority since 1975.

The building houses offices and equipment for crews that are dispatched to repair and maintain public housing all over the city, according to authority spokesman John Milton Wesley.

The housing authority has spent $800,000 to customize the building, and its central location makes it accessible to the housing authority's main offices downtown and the housing that needs maintenance, he said.

Wesley said the housing authority isn't considering any other uses for the building. "I know there's a lot of interest because of its proximity" to the train station, he said, but "it's a very strategic piece of real estate for us."

Other redevelopment suggestions for the Penn Station area included:

Designating an area north of the station as an empowerment zone as a way of giving tax incentives to businesses that move there.

Turning the Bolton Yards parking lot into an extension of midtown, with housing, offices, and a waterfront park.

Continuing the light rail line from Penn Station south and east.

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