Waterfront Partnership Seeks Improvements to Rash Field, Beach Volleyball Now a Priority

| July 28, 2015 | 2 Comments

Over the last 15 years, many plans have been proposed and discussed for the future of Rash Field at the south shore of the Inner Harbor, but it now appears one thing is clear – beach volleyball will finally have a permanent home at the waterfront park. When the Inner Harbor 2.0 Plan was released in November 2013, ideas for a redeveloped Rash Field included things such as water and sculpture gardens, a barge pool, a public beach, a carousel, a children’s science garden, and playgrounds, but no mention was made of a space for beach volleyball. However, yesterday Waterfront Partnership released a request for qualifications (RFQ) for a Rash Field improvement plan and beach volleyball was front and center as a requirement.

“The volleyball players made themselves a good case and it resonated well with Waterfront Partnership and the city,” said Laurie Schwartz, president of Waterfront Partnership. “We heard from a lot of volleyball players, it’s all part of the public process.”

A petition, “Include the Baltimore Beach Volleyball courts in the future plans for Rash Field,” garnered more than 1,600 signatures. More than 10 community groups in South Baltimore and around the Inner Harbor also wrote letters of support for beach volleyball to stay at Rash Field.

David Sivak, who helped rally support for beach volleyball as a part of the future of Rash Field, released the following statement to SouthBMore.com.

“It’s great to see that our voices have been heard and we’re so proud of the tremendous support shown by players and residents alike.  Beach volleyball is part of what makes the Inner Harbor feel like home for so many Baltimoreans and we’re excited to see how Rash Field will continue to foster a sense of community after redevelopment.”

Baltimore Beach Volleyball (BBV) has been running leagues at Rash Field for more than 15 years and Founder and President Todd Webster approached the news of the RFQ with cautious optimism due to a decade of uncertainty and one-year leases. “It is good to see the populous we have created finally get recognition. They (Waterfront Partnership) have extended the olive branch to us and that is great,” said Webster. “A long term lease would feel like a victory.”

Webster told SouthBMore.com he would be willing to make a significant investment in the space if BBV received a certain commitment. “Tell me the designated area we would be in at Rash Field and my design team would take care of it,” he said.

Webster would love a 10-court setup with a potential pro-shop and small grill. BBV currently has seven courts and waiting lists for each league.

BBV runs league play at Rash Field seven days a week until 10pm from March through October, as well as hosts open play on Saturday and Sunday mornings and afternoons throughout the year as weather permits. In 2014, BBV started a beach volleyball camp for area youths and it has hosted several tournaments throughout the year. Along with amateur tournaments, many professional beach volleyball tournaments have come to Rash Field including the 2012 National Volleyball League Pro Tour, which featured appearances by Olympic Men’s Gold Medal duo Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers.

BBV estimates that more than 2,500 weekly participants play volleyball at Rash Field, with the majority being residents of Baltimore City.

Webster is also eyeing a second location for BBV to meet the growing volleyball demand. “I feel like we are doing an injustice to the volleyball community of Baltimore by not having more opportunities to play,” said Webster. He has looked into a space at Middle Branch Park and told SouthBMore.com that he has several other potential opportunities.

Regarding the newly-released RFQ, the final design for Rash Field must include the following uses and design principles:

· Beach volleyball
· Outdoor exercise equipment and uses (e.g. jogging track)
· Active health and wellness, fitness space for organized or informal activities
· Remove berm separating field from the Promenade and add shade swings
· Upgrade South Shore promenade
· Provide flexible programming space for activities including bocce, ping pong, etc.
· Provide flexible outdoor events space
· Recommend treatment for safe use of remaining areas (e.g. wood bleachers)
· Potential Concession – seasonal, locally owned and operated outdoor café
· Relocate Pride Memorial, Carousel, and Kawasaki Garden (alternate locations are currently being identified)
· Add shade
· Storage for Rash Field programming and event activities
· Upgrade bathrooms
· Other uses brought forward by design team, stakeholder meetings, or the Advisory Committee

Design teams interested in submitting a proposal must do so no later than Friday, September 25, 2015. A RFQ with full details of the project is available at www.waterfrontpartnership.org.

“We are extremely excited to be moving forward with improvements that will attract more locals to the Harbor,” said Schwartz in a press release. “While tourism remains vital to Baltimore’s economy, there’s more we can do to make the Harbor more appealing to City residents and families in surrounding neighborhoods. This is an important first step.”

beachThe plan moving forward is much more scaled down than the ideas discussed in the Inner Harbor 2.0 Plan. Schwartz told SouthBMore.com that the main reason for this was that a main floor parking garage below the redeveloped park was determined not to be feasible. Schwartz noted the existing parking lots for the science center and Rusty Scupper will remain.

The budget for the first phase of improvements is about $3 million, which is already allocated in the city’s capital improvement budget, with the possibility of a larger budget for improvements in Fiscal Year 2018 and 2019. Schwartz told SouthBMore.com that is very likely that immediate improvements to Rash Field will be permanent and incorporated into the larger plan.

“We’d like to build on the popularity of beach volleyball… we’ve seen many fitness programs, such as November Project, use the current space as well,” said Schwartz. “The removal of the berm (separating the park and Inner Harbor promenade) will increase sight lines, hopefully leading to more people participating in the activities.”

Waterfront Partnership has also been approached by pop-up food gardens and cafés that have an interest in opening something at the park, which Schwartz said could be a “nice addition.”

When asked about the potential of a winter ice rink returning to Rash Field, Schwartz said, “We will think about an ice rink in the future – we are not dismissing the possibility – but it may end up being closer to the previous location (McKeldin Square) where there is more activity that time of year.”

Schwartz also said that a potential walking bridge from Rash Field to Harbor East is a visionary part of the plan and right now they are focused on smaller steps that will make a big impact.

“We hope to see some changes by next spring,” said Schwartz. “Hopefully improvements can happen while activities are going on.”

An advisory committee will be formed involving area groups and neighbors as well as volleyball players.

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About the Author:

Founder and Publisher of SouthBmore.com, longtime resident of South Baltimore, and a graduate of Towson University. Diehard Ravens and O's fan, father of three, amateur pizza chef, skateboarder, and "bar food" foodie. Email me at Kevin@InceptMM.com and follow me on Twitter at @SoBoKevin.