Downtown Partnership Proposes Redesigned McKeldin Square with Smaller Fountain

| December 18, 2015 | 0 Comments

Yesterday the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore (DPOB) revealed its newest plan for a redevelopment of McKeldin Square, a park sandwiched between Light St. and Pratt St. at the Inner Harbor. Architect Richard Jones of Mahan Rykiel presented the new concept, which includes the demolition of the existing McKeldin Fountain, to the Urban Design & Architecture Review Panel (UDARP).

The park is named for Theodore McKeldin who served as Mayor of Baltimore from 1943-1947 and 1963-1967, as well as Governor of Maryland from 1951-1959. McKeldin died in 1974. McKeldin Fountain was completed in 1982 in a style of architecture described as Brutalist.

DPOB has raised $3.4 million for the project from private and public sources, and estimates a redesigned park could cost around $6 million. DPOB President Kirby Fowler said all private funds raised, including $250,000 from T. Rowe Price, are contingent on the demolition of the fountain.

The park is separated from the Inner Harbor and Harborplace due to a Calvert St. connector from Light St. The goal of the project is to eventually eliminate the vehicle pass-through and merge the park into the Inner Harbor. That would be completed in a second phase of the project that would require further traffic studies and funding, but DPOB is looking to design the first phase with the second phase in mind.

DPOB has been working with the McKeldin family on the project. The goal is to make McKeldin Square a place of celebration and not a walk-through on the way to the Inner Harbor. McKeldin is credited with the vision that become the Inner Harbor as we know it now and DPOB is looking to honor the following quote by McKeldin as inspiration for the design of the park:

“Envision with me … a new Inner Harbor area, where the imagination of man can take advantage of a rare gift of nature to produce an enthralling panorama of office buildings, parks, high-rise apartments, and marinas. In this, we have a special opportunity, for few other cities in the world have been blessed, as has ours, with such a potentially beautiful harbor area within the very heart of downtown … Too Visionary this? … Too dreamlike? … Certainly not.”

The above quote will be engraved on a new flush-to-the-ground fountain powered by jets at the center of the new park. The team discussed engraving a history of the Inner Harbor around the perimeter of the fountain as well. The fountain will be designed so that it can be drained to accommodate larger gatherings and for placement of a performance stage. The fountain will be the centerpiece of the new park, which will also include pathways, grassy areas, and vegetation that reflect landscape typologies of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

Jones described the current McKeldin Fountain as a boundary that obstructs views and takes up 48% of the approximately two-acre park. It was also estimated that only 37% of the current park is “useable” with its current layout. Jones and his team are looking to engage the waterfront with the new design and increase sight lines in every direction. Skywalks connecting the Hyatt and Harborplace will also be removed with the demolition of the fountain.

Design materials for the project will be picked in future. The presentation was described as an opportunity to show the new layout and geometry of the project with more details coming in the future.

UDARP panelists were critical of the design and wondered why keeping McKeldin Fountain is not looked at as an option. Several panelists also agreed that they did not see the design as a transformative design for the space. Panelist David Rubin offered some critique, but did describe the design as having an “elegant simplicity.”

Jones and Fowler disagreed with much of the assessment of the panel and stated that they’ve held dozens of public meetings over the past eight years and have the support Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the McKeldin family for the project. They have received permission from the Maryland Historical Trust to demolish the fountain, which is not considered historic, and they are hoping to begin preliminary work on the project in the Spring.

DPOB is hoping to meet with UDARP again in February.

Many additional changes are ahead for the Inner Harbor as Ashkenazy Acquisition Corporation received final approval yesterday for the redevelopment of the Harborplace Pavilions, a project the organization is hoping to begin in the first quarter of 2016. Public meetings have also been announced for the redevelopment of Rash Field which will also be designed by Mahan Rykiel.

Slides Presented by Mahan Rykiel

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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.
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