Firms unveil grand plans for Pratt Street

Designs feature trees, two-way traffic

February 21, 2007|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,sun reporter

Visions of a transformed Pratt Street nearly as grand as the Champs Elysees in Paris and Chicago's Michigan Avenue danced on a projector screen last night at the Baltimore Convention Center.

In a public forum, four architectural teams unveiled their proposals for overhauling a 16-block stretch of the critical artery that carries traffic past the Inner Harbor.

Their visions of grandeur included gateway monuments and fountains at each end of the stretch -- at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on the west and President Street on the east -- and "green" rooftops for buildings, rain gardens in plazas, solar-powered streetlights and a tree canopy.

"It's not about Pratt Street as much as the whole city, making connectivity east to west and west to east," Adam Gross, design principal at Ayers Saint Gross of Baltimore, said during his firm's presentation.

The Baltimore Development Corp., Downtown Partnership of Baltimore and the city departments of planning and transportation awarded $25,000 grants in December to the four finalists in a design contest. Within a few weeks, city officials are expected to choose a winning team for the project, which could take years to complete.

Also competing are EDSA of Columbia, Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects of Washington, and Hargreaves Associates of Cambridge, Mass.

Creating a unified corridor with distinct districts, possibly two directions for traffic, environmental features and a better view of the Inner Harbor were features stressed by most of the teams.

All agreed to remove the grassy mounds, called berms, that disrupt the street's urban character, proposing to replace them with widened sidewalks, more trees and planters, and outdoor retail space.

Carving out a cleaner view of the waterfront is also essential, because it is now almost invisible from Pratt Street, said Bob Gorman, representing Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects. He mentioned creating fountains and reflecting pools at Sondheim Plaza adjacent to the World Trade Center, which could be frozen for ice-skating and drained for festivals.

Constructing a kayaking boathouse at the Jones Falls could be another asset, he said.

"We want to create a place that opens up a window to the water," Gorman said.

The plans would create a pedestrian-friendly Pratt Street that still allows for heavy vehicle traffic. Proposals from Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn and Ayers Saint Gross to implement two-way traffic on both Pratt and Lombard streets generated applause.

"I can't think of any great urban street ... without traffic going in both directions," Gorman said.

Gross' team members said they would take it one step further by adding two-way traffic on Charles, Light and Calvert streets.

EDSA's design to create a shared bike and bus lane, as exists in many foreign cities, also drew attention. Other teams envisioned connections to bike trails along the Jones Falls and Gwynn Falls. Transforming McKeldin Plaza at Light Street into a more modern space, complete with LED screens that could televise sports games and video installation art, was also stressed. EDSA's presenters would create a green performance lawn, with food kiosks and Internet access, resembling Bryant Park in New York City.

"We've got to program these spaces to really bring them to life," said Henry M. Alinger, associate principal of EDSA.

All the presenters recommended several distinct districts heading west to east along Pratt, including a campus area around the University of Maryland complex, a civic zone at the Convention Center, an enhanced Inner Harbor and an arts and cultural section near the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture at President Street.

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