Approaching four decades after the city devised a roadmap to transform the rat-infested, industrial Inner Harbor into Baltimore's rec room, the famed waterfront is at another turning point.
The extraordinary success of the original plan, which draws millions to the harbor each year, has produced a new set of traffic and green space problems that Baltimore planners and developers are hoping to fix with a new $200,000 master plan.
The original model called for a big shoreline park surrounded by housing and offices. But it became outdated as development boomed and the unforeseen number of visitors flooded the harborside promenade.
The new plan seeks to create more pedestrian-friendly links between the harbor and the city, organize what has become a mish-mash of green space and, in the most bold recommendation, dismantle the automobile-centric throughways that ring the harbor.
City officials will use the master plan as a basis for legislation controlling development and infrastructure changes around the harbor.
Highlights were presented to the public in February and again last week to the city's architectural review board by Cooper, Robertson & Partners, a New York architecture and urban design firm hired by the city a year ago to lead the process.
"We often use Baltimore as a precedent, as the way cities can improve," said Michael Jasper, a principal architect of the new plan. "The way we work is, firstly, we look at what's there. How did the city grow since 1965 and what's good about what's there and what needs to be improved upon. Sounds simple, but it takes a lot of experience to know what's innate or inherent in a good plan."
Much of the 1965 model was followed, and the harbor now offers a promenade, parks and retail pavilions flanked by an aquarium and science center, which are both expanding. With some exceptions, low-rise office buildings provide a backdrop.
But there is less housing and more parking on the harbor than envisioned. And the widths of the surrounding roads - a compromise between traffic engineers and urban planners in the 1960s - cut off pedestrians from the rest of downtown. That limits the commercial and recreational success of the harbor to the immediate waterfront, the new plan's authors say.
Among other things, the new plan calls for:
Transportation changes. The plan seeks to transform the highway-like road around the harbor into a tree-lined boulevard that is narrower and more navigable for pedestrians. It calls for closing the spur that connects Light Street to Calvert Street, while rerouting traffic to Light and Pratt streets.
More and greener open spaces. Landscaping should continue from the harbor to the fountain at McKeldin Plaza, at Pratt and Light streets, with no road interruption. The unplanned green areas between the Harborplace pavilions should be landscaped. Rash Field, on the harbor's western bank, could accommodate an underground parking garage, park and sloping oval lawn with an amphitheater.
Possible changes on parcels under development. Provided a planned Ritz-Carlton hotel and condominium project is not developed, the former Bethlehem Steel propeller yard on Key Highway should include more open spaces and views from Federal Hill. A concert tent on Pier 6 should be moved to another park site and replaced with low-rise residential buildings. Setbacks and height limits should be placed on development on the former McCormick Co. site, which is now a parking lot.
Other development parcels were not included in the master plan, such as the former News American site on Pratt Street and the lots behind Camden Yards where a convention headquarters hotel is planned. Also left off was Lockwood Place, where shops and offices are under construction along Pratt Street and Market Place, and much of the Allied Signal site that juts into the harbor from Fells Point.
Celso Guitian, an architect for Cho Benn Holback + Associates, which is also on the master plan team, said the new roadmap mostly focused on improving the pedestrian environment.
"We need to balance the concerns of the car with those of the pedestrian," he said. "It will take a lot of public will."
The city will start with the proposals that are not likely to be controversial or expensive, said M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's quasi-public development agency, which hired the master plan team.
Already in the works is a formal request for developers to build the underground parking garage on the southern bank of the harbor. Trees and landscaping may be next, Brodie said.
It's the road changes including lane closures, reduced speeds and new intersections that will be the most politically challenging because of their expense and traffic impact. More traffic studies and cost estimates are being generated now, he said.
"I love the plan," said Brodie. "It's not just about aesthetic ideas, it's about making things work better."
Local urban planners and architects say they mostly like the ideas presented.