BGE should find a new use for Melvale Gas Holder

October 22, 2012

"Synergy" is a term often over-used today in business and marketing-speak. Yet, in planning for cash-strapped cities, it is a concept that must always be kept in mind. We are frustrated when we cannot afford the amenities we wish we had to make cities like Baltimore as truly lively and engaging as we wish them to be. Yet, by spending money on things that create no synergy — no positive spillover or greater-than-the-sum-of-the-parts effect — we are wasting precious resources and overlooking opportunities to make magical things happen.

Hence, I was surprised to read Edward Gunts' article "BGE to demolish JFX landmark" (October 19) describing the planned demolition of the Melvale Gas Holder that rises 260 feet near Cold Spring Lane and the Jones Falls Expressway, and to find it contained no calls for reusing this unique landmark. For me, growing up in Baltimore, I always knew this to be the "Vinegar Tank," and I did wonder at times on how much vinegar might actually be sloshing around in there. I thank Mr. Gunts for setting me straight and for documenting the colorful history of Baltimore's gas holders. Visiting town this week, I noticed the tank looked careworn and needed a paint job, but I figured that would be attended to soon.

How disappointing it was to learn that BGE and city leaders have not considered "recycling" this notable landmark in place, rather than imploding it and hauling it away. Similar industrial structures have been repurposed for housing, cultural and recreational uses in Europe and in this country. Check out the High Line in New York City, Coop Himmelblau's Gasometer City in Vienna or the "Westergasfabriek" Culture Park in Amsterdam. Then imagine a 25-story cylinder open to the sky, affording 360-degree views from an observatory at the top; climbing walls, art installations and performance venues; maybe some apartments, and watering holes for cyclists traveling along the trail — all within steps of the Light Rail line and a healthful walk from neighborhoods in all directions. Synergy.

The article cites it will cost "millions" to implode the structure and require temporary closings of the light rail line and the Jones Falls Expressway, that BGE has no plans to redevelop the area of the gas holder but only to construct a new electrical substation elsewhere on its 26 acre property at this location, and that "in seconds" this 260-foot high, steel structure from the 1930s will be reduced to scrap for recycling. While this might be a fallback plan, BGE and the city could achieve much higher payback from investing a little time and imagination in exploring how to create something truly inspiring by reusing the existing structure. No implosion required.

Ethan P. Cohen

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