New shops and restaurants would rise along more than a dozen blocks of Baltimore's most heavily traveled downtown boulevard, Pratt Street, and the corridor itself would get a $100 million makeover in one of the city's most ambitious urban renewal initiatives since the redevelopment of Charles Center and the Inner Harbor.
Mayor Sheila Dixon is scheduled today to unveil final plans to revitalize a 16-block stretch of Pratt Street during the annual meeting of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, a civic organization that has led the drive to transform the corridor into a more inviting and pedestrian-friendly gateway to Baltimore's waterfront and business districts.
The designers decided against an earlier proposal to open Pratt to two-way traffic, but the plan would entail some major changes to downtown traffic patterns, including a significant reworking of the intersections of Pratt and Light streets and Pratt and Calvert streets.
Dixon said yesterday that she supports the project conceptually and will urge that private property owners support it as well.
"It is an excellent plan that presents a compelling vision for the heart of Baltimore," Dixon said after a 90-minute briefing on the project, noting that the designers' plans dovetail with her vision for making Baltimore a more livable city.
"This is a huge undertaking," she said. "It's going to require a lot, but I think we have the ability to do it." The final plan includes changes designed to enhance some of the most prominent and valuable real estate in Baltimore, including the Harborplace pavilions, the Gallery at Harborplace, the World Trade Center, the 250 West Pratt Street tower and the Legg Mason tower at 100 Light St.
It calls for a large new public square in the heart of the city adding more than an acre of public parkland near the water's edge -- and a new public sculpture garden along the Lower Jones Falls.
It recommends altering traffic patterns along portions of Pratt and Light streets, removing a half-dozen pedestrian skybridges, demolishing the 25-year old McKeldin Fountain at Pratt and Light streets and adding more than 650,000 square feet of shops, restaurants and other commercial space.
Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership, said Dixon's show of support is a signal to property owners and other stakeholders that the effort is moving from the planning stage, where it has been for more than a year, to the implementation stage. "We have a plan," he said. "We are ready to move ahead."
Adam Gross, design principal for Ayers Saint Gross, one of the lead designers of the Pratt Street plan, said he believes it will have the same "transformative quality" as earlier master plans for Charles Center and the Inner Harbor.
The goal was to create "a truly great urban street," Gross said. "We want it to be a street that people from all over the world are going to want to come to."
The Pratt Street plan grew out of a design competition launched in 2006 to find ways to enliven Pratt Street from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on the west to President Street on the east.
Public officials said the improvements were needed to make Baltimore more attractive as it competes with other jurisdictions for office workers, business travelers, tourists, conventioneers and residents. More than 32,000 cars travel on Pratt Street every weekday, and more than 12 million visitors come to Pratt Street every year.
The competition winners, Ayers Saint Gross of Baltimore and the Olin Partnership of Philadelphia, were hired in mid-2007 to meet with property owners up and down Pratt Street and turn their initial ideas into a comprehensive plan that can be carried out in phases over the next decade.
Highlights of the plan include:
Keeping one-way traffic on Pratt Street but adding amedian strip to create a separate lane for buses and bicycles. Planners also recommended transforming Light Street to a two-way thoroughfare from Pratt Street to Baltimore Street.
Razing the multilevel McKeldin Fountain, named after former mayor and governor Theodore McKeldin, to open views of the city skyline for those headed north on Light Street, and replacing the fountain with a street-level plaza and park that would provide a new gateway to the harbor, possibly with jets of water and an ice rink in the winter.
Along with razing the fountain, planners recommend that the city eliminate several lanes of northbound traffic that hug the west edge of the Light Street pavilion of Harborplace and enable people headed north along Light Street to turn onto Calvert and Pratt streets. The former bed of the curved roadway would be turned over to pedestrians and made part of a new public square called McKeldin Plaza, adding nearly 1 1/3 acres of public parkland to the 30 acres of parkland around the harbor's edge.
Eliminating skybridges that span Pratt and Light streets to encourage people to walk at street level and patronize shops and restaurants there.