Planning a better Inner Harbor

Consultant unveils ideas, including less pavement, to enhance popular area

February 13, 2003|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's Inner Harbor would see redesigned park space, a more pedestrian-friendly layout and less pavement surrounding it under the waterfront's first new master plan since 1965.

"We encouraged them to think big and they have," said M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of Baltimore Development Corp., at yesterday's presentation of the $200,000 plan by Cooper, Robertson & Partners of New York.

The consultants sketched an ambitious vision, filled with references to what cities from Paris to San Francisco have done. Whether any of it happens here is an open question, partly because of the large sums of money it would take to bring the plan to fruition.

"It's always been my belief that if there is a terrific design, you will find the money," Brodie said before the unveiling at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

The team's task was not to start from scratch but to come up with ideas to enhance an area that is a popular tourist spot and gathering place for city residents.

"It's very difficult to criticize your grandfather," conceded Brian Shea, a Cooper, Robertson partner. The city's harbor redevelopment "is a model internationally of what to do."

But the consultants found plenty that could be improved, starting with the highwaylike thoroughfares that cut off the waterfront from Federal Hill and downtown.

Shea said while the widest avenue in Manhattan is 80 feet, parts of Light Street have 200 feet of pavement. He envisions narrower streets, and in a radical proposal, the elimination of the Light Street spur that takes northbound traffic to Calvert Street and eastbound Pratt Street. Removing this roadway would link McKeldin Plaza to the waterfront.

Vehicles northbound on Light Street would proceed to the intersection with Pratt before making a 90-degree right turn onto Pratt. The new swath of open space would create what one consultant dubbed a grand civic "foyer," similar to recent changes at the base of San Francisco's Market Street.

Narrower streets might create a more intimate atmosphere - but also possibly more traffic congestion. As O.R. George, the team's traffic engineer, acknowledged, "Those are going to be major challenges."

One of the biggest departures from the present would be a revamped Rash Field area. The plan calls for taking today's flat ball fields and building a giant oval lawn sloping up to Key Highway. Recreation uses would not be eliminated but de-emphasized, said landscape architect Thomas Balsley.

He said the harbor's west shore, between Harborplace and the Maryland Science Center, should become a "great green lawn" with tree groves at either end. People could lounge by day, watch movies by night in summertime and go ice skating in winter.

Other ideas include improving the waterside brick promenade on the Pratt Street side of the harbor. The consultants suggest a diagonal route that would require a widened footbridge by the National Aquarium.

Shea also said a single entity or a consolidated urban renewal plan should guide the harbor's development.

In some ways, the consultants are late given how built up the Inner Harbor has grown. They recommend limiting development to entertainment, cultural uses and the like, while discouraging offices, large hotels and parking structures.

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