Partnering for design competition


April 30, 2001|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

As part of its campaign to make Baltimore more livable, the Downtown Partnership plans to launch a design competition to generate suggestions for improving Center Plaza, the public space west of the One Charles Center office tower.

The nonprofit organization is one of 22 finalists vying for a $50,000 matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Leaders want to use the funds to solicit ideas for revitalizing the oval plaza, one of two large open spaces in Baltimore's 33-acre Charles Center renewal area. Ten winners will each receive $50,000, and a decision from the NEA is expected later this year.

"When completed in the 1960s and '70s, Charles Center was hailed as a model of urban design," said Marshall Snively, the Partnership's planning and urban design manager. "Now Center Plaza, by becoming the focus of a national campaign to modernize its appearance and improve its usability, can once again serve as an inspiration to other cities seeking to improve open spaces."

Although it is surrounded by office buildings, hotels and the Johns Hopkins University's new Downtown Center, Center Plaza is underused as a public space. Past ideas for enlivening it have ranged from a skating rink to a butterfly museum.

The competition would be held in time to yield an approved design for Center Plaza by spring 2002, and work would most likely begin the following year. The estimated cost of renovating the plaza is $6 million. Funds are expected to come from a combination of public and private sources.

Redwood agreement

Focus Development LLC, a Baltimore-based development firm, has reached a long-awaited agreement to redevelop the former USF&G Corp. headquarters at 131 E. Redwood St. as a Hampton Inn and Suites hotel.

The $20 million project will include 154 guest rooms, 2,500 square feet of retail space and 1,000 square feet of meeting space. It will result in the creation of 53 hotel jobs and the preservation of one of the most handsome structures on Redwood Street, a seven-story building designed by Theodore Wells Pietsch and constructed in two phases between 1906 and 1910.

Plans by AGG International, an architectural firm based in Bethesda, call for two stories of hotel rooms to be added to the building. The design has been approved by the U. S. Park Service to receive tax credits for historic preservation.

The City of Baltimore has agreed to provide $335,360 to offset the cost of removing a breezeway that connects 131 E. Redwood St. with the former USF&G annex at 26 S. Calvert St. The city also has agreed to lease a portion of Mercer Street to the developer for use as a surface parking lot.

Construction is scheduled to begin in June and be complete in about a year. Besides Focus, the team that is helping save this Redwood Street landmark includes: Uniwest Construction of Alexandria, Va., the builder; EHT Traceries, the historic consultant; Al Barry of A. B. Associates, the planning consultant, and the accounting firm of Resnick Fedder and Silverman, which advised Focus on syndicating the project for historic preservation tax credits.

`Green' design recognized

The new Anne Arundel County headquarters of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has again been recognized as one of the nation's best examples of environmentally responsible design.

The American Institute of Architects and its Committee on the Environment this month named the foundation's $7.2 million building, the Philip Merrill Environmental Center, as one of the "Top 10 Green Projects" for 2001.

The jury was impressed by the "aggressive energy conservation and sustainable building strategies" applied to virtually every aspect of materials, systems, manufacturing, maintenance, and construction, advancing a "whole building" design that minimizes consumption, long-term costs and maintenance.

Designed by the Washington office of the SmithGroup, with Janet Harrison of Annapolis as an environmental consultant, the three-story, 32,000-square-foot Merrill Center is the first and only building in the country to receive the top Platinum rating for Leadership in Environmental Engineering and Design (LEED) from the U. S. Green Building Council - a distinction announced last fall. This year's AIA/COTE Top 10 "Green" Projects initiative was developed in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy.

Architecture talks

Baltimore Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano will discuss his ideas for providing an encouraging atmosphere for development in downtown Baltimore during a free public forum at the Johns Hopkins University's Downtown Center at noon on May 9.

More than a dozen leaders in the effort to revitalize Baltimore's West Side will deliver a redevelopment update from 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on May 8 at the University of Maryland's School of Nursing Auditorium, 655 W. Lombard St. To register, call the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects, 410-625-2585.

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