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Exelon site park design needs revamp

The city’s design review panel on Thursday rejected design plans for a public park to border the 23-story regional headquarters for Exelon Corp. on the city’s waterfront at Harbor Point.

Members of the Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel said the proposal lacked a sense of formality and simplicity and instructed landscape architect Richard Jones of Baltimore-based Mahan Rykiel Associates to return with a new plan in the near future.

“This should be a landmark park,” said Gary Bowden, adding that “formality and simplicity” should rule the design.

Jones’ design is for a narrow, small park to flank the Exelon tower, which is part of the first phase of development at the Harbor Point site. The plan called for rows of trees and benches on each side with a small fountain on the eastern edge and a glass building to house a small café on the other. The park would promote pedestrian traffic at the site and would have a jagged, modernistic pathway running through it.

“It would reference the historic fabric of the city, reference the story of Harbor Point and create a space that will be memorable,” Jones told the UDARP panel during an hour-and-a-half presentation and discussion.

The park would be 100 feet wide by 400 feet long, about the size of downtown’s Preston Gardens park near Mercy Medical Center, Jones said. Its southwestern corner would provide a pedestrian link to another, waterfront park planned for Harbor Point, yet to be designed.

That was another issue UDARP members said troubled them.

With work yet to be commissioned on the other public space at the site, panel members said they were concerned that there would not be continuity in design.

Jonathan Flesher, senior development director for the developer, Beatty Development Group, said after the meeting that would not be a problem.

“We’re only designing one building now and we’re only designing one park now,” Flesher said. “It will all fit together.”

Flesher said Jones will return to UDARP later this month to present a revised design.

The $1 billion Harbor Point development has been met with controversy after a request by developer Michael Beatty for $107 million in public tax breaks was introduced by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake before the City Council this month.

The proposed break, in the form of tax increment financing (TIF) bonds sold to private investors, would defer property taxes on the site. The Baltimore Brew reported this week that the development would not begin to pay property taxes to the city until 2025, based on a private report compiled by MuniCap Inc., a Columbia-based real estate consulting group.

The Harbor Point project has already garnered a separate tax break with state Enterprise Zone tax credits, awarded last year.

City Council hearings on the proposed TIF bonds are expected to be scheduled for later this summer.