Gov. Parris N. Glendening has agreed to pay half the $19 million cost of extending the promenade around the Baltimore harbor by nearly a half-mile, matching city financing for the project 25 years after the walkway was begun to help revive the waterfront.
Construction of the promenade and supporting bulkheads at three private development sites - HarborView, Fells Landing and Belts Wharf - would move the city toward its goal of completing a 7.5-mile public boardwalk from Canton to Locust Point.
"We are close to final agreement," Glendening said this week of the state's negotiations with city officials.
The state has earmarked $9.5 million for the projects, an amount city officials say they are prepared to match. The state's share is awaiting legislative approval by the General Assembly's budget committee chairpersons, and both have signaled they will.
State Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Northwest Baltimore Democrat who is chairwoman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, praised Glendening's move to help complete the promenade. "It's the first foray [by the state] in this harbor linear park, which is really what the promenade is. I think it's pretty exciting," she said.
Hoffman said her only concern was that every state dollar be used to pay for improvements that are open to the public. That will be the case, officials say.
Work could begin later this fall at the HarborView site, state officials say, but most construction would start next summer.
"That is a significant step in completing the promenade," said James Piper Bond, president of Living Classrooms Foundation, based near Fells Point.
Today, the promenade is more than 70 percent complete, Bond said, but it has large gaps, and a section of bulkhead has fallen into the water along Key Highway. The addition of up to 2,365 feet would raise the percentage to about 85 percent, he said, with the former Allied Signal plant site standing out as a major broken link between the Inner Harbor East and Fells Point.
In addition to the $19 million in improvements, the city plans to spend $2 million on promenade improvements at two other mixed-use developments, Union Wharf north of Belts Wharf and North Shore on Boston Street between Fells Point and Canton, said Laurie B. Schwartz, deputy mayor for economic and community development.
The proposed promenade extensions would give residents and visitors more room to stroll and lounge, as well as benefit private developments adjacent to them. Those developments include an 86-townhouse project at HarborView and the Fells Landing project, which will have shops, residences, parking and a new headquarters for design firm RTKL Associates.
From the state, Glendening has earmarked $4.5 million in federal transportation enhancement funds and $5 million from Program Open Space, which has traditionally been used to preserve land in suburban counties.
For its share, the city would spend $4.5 million of gas-tax money that it gets from the state. The other $5 million would not be a cash payment; rather, the city would forgo $5 million in future tax revenue so that two piers - likely to be off limits to the public - could be rebuilt for the 86 townhouses at HarborView.
The method is called tax-increment financing, and the General Assembly gave Baltimore power last year to use it. Under it, local governments can issue bonds to finance public improvements needed for development projects and then pay off the bonds using increased tax revenue from the development. City Council approval is required.
"The city never has to come up with any cash," said Frank Wise, vice president at HarborView Properties Development Co.
At HarborView, 565 feet of bulkhead are to be rebuilt and a promenade constructed, with new light fixtures, benches, trash cans and safety rails.
Under the pending deal, officials said, the state would pay HarborView $5 million for easements to provide public access; HarborView would use that money to help pay for the construction. This public area would be separate from the two piers where the townhouses are planned and the public probably will be barred.
Across the water at Fells Landing, a 1,400-foot-long bulkhead is to be rebuilt between Brown's Wharf and the Living Classrooms site. The brick promenade would resemble the pattern in Fells Point. The city and state plan to split the $6.5 million cost.
On the eastern side of Fells Point, a 350-foot to 400-foot bulkhead is planned between the end of the promenade at Fell Street and the edge of the Belts Wharf development. The city and state would split the $2.5 million tab.
Work on the promenade began a quarter-century ago under then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer on the downtown portion of the Inner Harbor. Progress slowed in the 1990s when Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke began requiring developers to pay for the public walkways, which some developers said they could not afford.
Because of a lack of coordination over the years, the promenade's materials and quality vary widely.
Sections of the promenade built with public funds include those in front of Harborplace and the Inner Harbor East hotel and retail complex near Little Italy. Privately funded walkways stretch in front of Lighthouse Point in Canton and several areas of Fells Point.
All told, the $19 million in promenade improvements "would narrow the gap significantly," said Schwartz, of the mayor's office.