City's tourism jewel due for a polishing

Inner Harbor enhancements will touch on pedestrian safety, convenient parking, aesthetics

May 04, 2004|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

An action plan to improve visitor access to the Inner Harbor, provide more easily accessible parking and improve the appearance of the city's No. 1 tourist attraction is scheduled to be announced today by Mayor Martin O'Malley.

The plan will include a redesign of the busy Pratt and Light streets intersection, an underground parking garage at the foot of Federal Hill and a new landscaped park area between the visitors' center and the Maryland Science Center.

A bike trail link would connect the recently developed Gwynns Falls trail to West Baltimore with the planned Jones Falls trail to the north.

Andrew B. Frank, the No. 2 official at the Baltimore Development Corp., is expected to be named to coordinate Inner Harbor development.

The first-generation Inner Harbor master plan nearly four decades ago transformed Baltimore's dirty, industrial harbor into a jewel visited by millions of tourists each year.

"It was the frog becoming a prince," said Otis Rolley III, city planning director. "Now we're going to see the prince become a king. I think that it's equally as significant, but not as dramatic."

Placing an individual such as Frank, executive vice president of BDC, into a coordinating role was recommended by the Greater Baltimore Committee in a study released in October. It will provide a single point of contact for people on day-to-day operations at the harbor.

"It was something that has been on people's minds for some time, and the GBC sort of crystallized it," M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the BDC, said of the idea to bring the operations under a single umbrella.

The agenda to be outlined by O'Malley today reflects an effort to make use of a new Inner Harbor master plan that has been prepared by consultants and city planners over the past two years.

"We don't want this to be just a report that sits on a shelf," Brodie said. "We want it to be alive."

Although the master plan takes a broad view of the Inner Harbor, looking out five to 10 years, work on the four priority projects is expected to begin as early as this summer.

"We're not here to make pretty plans and dream lofty dreams," Rolley said. "We looked at pieces that we could move forward on immediately."

Among those priorities, the Departments of Planning and of Recreation and Parks, along with BDC, will begin the process of redesigning the Inner Harbor's West Shore - the area between the Baltimore Visitor Center that opens Friday and the Maryland Science Center - with grass and shade trees.

The Baltimore City Parking Authority will seek proposals to build a privately financed, one- or two-story parking garage below Rash Field. The park surface would then be rebuilt with gardens, open space, an amphitheater and possibly an outdoor science park.

The parking authority is expected to issue bonds that would be repaid from parking revenues to finance construction of the garage.

"More than most other space, people in general see the West Shore as space that everyone owns," Brodie said.

A consultant will be commissioned to study the interaction between traffic and pedestrians at the intersection of Pratt and Light streets. One proposal is to slow vehicular traffic by altering the paving to look like a large crosswalk leading between the fountain at McKeldin Plaza and the amphitheater between the two pavilions.

Another approach calls for changing the traffic pattern by eliminating the curved turn at Pratt Street and making it into a T-intersection.

The fourth priority will be seeking federal funds to design a multi-use trail to connect the Jones Falls and Gwynns Falls trails. That connecting trail would run less than a mile from the south side of Market Place to the Science Center, Frank said.

Other key aspects of the plan for study in the future include developing guidelines for yet-to-be-developed waterfront sites, including the space under the Pier 6 tent, the former McCormick site and the former News American site.

Also being studied are ways to improve the "ring road" of Key Highway, Light, Pratt and President streets making them into a more attractive boulevard with uniform widths.

The Inner Harbor Task Force, which meets monthly, would continue to operate with Frank as interim coordinator. Part of his role would be to encourage sponsorship activities by area businesses and establish standards for landscaping to create a more uniform look around the Inner Harbor.

During the next roughly two years, Frank said, he will study ideas for a possible new organization that would direct and finance future Inner Harbor improvements. He expects to report back to O'Malley with a plan for the future.

"The results of the first Inner Harbor plan have been such a boon for the city," Rolley said. "I'm excited to see what the second part of the plan will bring."

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