Replacing some of the concrete in center city with green space and parks is the focus of a report released Friday by the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore.
The Open Space Plan would cost more than $100 million and be used as a development guide for the next three decades, said Kirby Fowler, president of the partnership. Some of the financing for the upgrades could be paid for by local businesses as part of a special tax district plan now in the works, he added.
Fowler said budget constraints in the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks have forced private groups such as the partnership to step in to help spruce up the city. Last year, for example, city recreation and parks workers were ordered to Preston Gardens on St. Paul Street near the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse to remove flower beds because the city could not afford to maintain them, Fowler said.
“It’s a reality of the city budget,” he said. “The city owns the vast majority of our public spaces downtown, and over the past decades, due to budget concerns, it hasn’t been able to invest and maintain those spaces.”
The plan was developed by the partnership, the Baltimore Development Corp. and the city Department of Planning, Fowler said.
It is the first part of a comprehensive downtown redevelopment plan by the partnership, to be released in full this spring. Financing for the entire project is still being determined, he added.
The report lists recommendations to transform some of the city’s streets, alleys and public spaces into greenways and parks, including the site where the First Mariner Arena now stands.
Among the proposals:
-Demolition of a building on the west end of Hopkins Plaza to create a grassy promenade with small water fountains and park benches.
-Rejuvenation of Jones Falls Park, near City Hall, to create a wider green space and a new site for the Hollywood Diner nearby.
-Redesign of Preston Gardens to include a pedestrian walkway and flower garden on the upper portion of St. Paul Street near the new Mary Catherine Bunting Center at Mercy Medical Center.
Fowler said smaller parts of the plan — such as planting flower beds and pruning trees downtown — are already underway. Larger components, such as building demolition and new construction of green space, will require millions of dollars, and a budget is not yet prepared.
One option, he said, is to seek approval of the City Council for a tax increment financing district downtown, which would levy a special tax on local businesses located near the park and green space upgrades to help pay off bonds needed to pay for the redevelopment.
“It’s like announcing the Inner Harbor plan in the 1950s,” Fowler said, urging patience with the center city rebirth momentum. “We could start chipping away at the grand ideas year by year.”