Solo Gibbs Master Plan Proposes Large Athletic Field, Demolished School, and a Development Site

| November 7, 2018 | 0 Comments

Baltimore Recreation & Parks is working along with the community and landscape architecture firm Mahan Rykiel Associates to develop a master plan for the 2.5-acre Solo Gibbs Park in Sharp-Leadenhall. The master plan process is nearing completion and Recreation & Parks will soon outline park improvements, costs, and an implementation priority plan.

The master plan public process began last October. It is driven by a steering committee with a member from Caves Valley Partners (CVP), Christ Lutheran Church, Maryland Stadium Authority, Maryland Transit Administration, Leadenhall Baptist Church, Otterbein Improvement Association, Sharp-Leadenhall Improvement Association, Solo Gibbs Recreation Center, the South Baltimore Gateway Partnership (SBGP), South Baltimore Partnership, The Baltimore Station, and other local groups.

In the latest drawings, Solo Gibbs Park features a new recreation center built along Leadenhall St. at the current site of some benches; a large sports field running north to south that can be used in a soccer, football, and lacrosse alignment, as well as for baseball and as an open gathering space; renovated basketball courts; a renovated tennis court; a gathering area replacing an existing tennis court; two expanded playgrounds; new pathways including an extension of the Gwynns Falls trail along the western edge of the park; new entrances; a new splash pad; and landscaping improvements.

The two biggest obstacles to executing this plan are the demolition of the existing Sharp-Leadenhall Elementary School in order to incorporate that land into the park, and finding funding to construct a new recreation center which could total more than $2 million. Sharp-Leadenhall Elementary School is scheduled to close in 2020.

Recreation & Parks is hoping to incorporate two-thirds of the footprint of the school building and its parking lots into the park for the expanded sports field, and dedicate a third of the footprint for a private development. This private development could help fund improvements to the park as the parcel could be sold to a developer or a partnership could be formed where the developer would make improvements or maintain the park.

Katherine Brower, a design planner with Recreation & Parks, told SouthBMore.com that the new building would need to interface with the park and not back up to it. The site fronts W. West St. A new entrance to Solo Gibbs Park is planned just east of the proposed development site and also adjacent to The Baltimore Station.

CVP is under way on the $275-million, mixed-use Stadium Square development on three-blocks of Sharp-Leadenhall and the South Baltimore neighborhood. Two of the blocks are adjacent to Solo Gibbs Park.

CVP Partner Arsh Mirmiran is on the Solo Gibbs Park Master Plan steering committee and CVP was instrumental in pushing for improvements at Solo Gibbs Park. The company started the process by drawing up concepts for the park and speaking with the Baltimore Ravens about funding a field at the park.

Mirmiran does not feel the development parcel will be attractive to bidders. “This plan takes the development value out of the site,” said Mirmiran. In previous concepts, the entire Sharp-Leadenhall Elementary School site was considered for development.

Brower noted that there is concern from the community regarding what that development could be and whether it would be welcoming to the community.

CVP is also planning an affordable housing building for veterans at the corner of W. Cross St. and Leadenhall St. This building is planning retail that faces Solo Gibbs Park. The new recreation center is planned across the street from W. Cross and Leadenhall St. “The visibility into the park is messed up and the recreation center chokes one of the primary entrances into the park,” said Mirmiran.

“The plan is a hybrid of what a bunch of different people wanted. It’s a design by a committee trying to keep everyone happy, but I don’t think anyone will be truly happy with it,” said Mirmiran. He also noted that new plan really increases the costs of improving the park.

When CVP was working on concepts for the park, they proposed turning the school into a recreation center and demolishing the existing recreation center to make way for a football field moving east to west.

Brower noted that there was additional concern from residents about the new recreation center blocking the park. “We are working on some schematics and massing to show what it could potentially look like,” she said.

The recreation center will offer programming for children as well as potentially be a maker space and offer skills training.

The small existing recreation center will be demolished after the new recreation center is completed.

Due to its neighbors and location, Solo Gibbs Park offers some opportunities for funding and partnerships that most other parks in Baltimore City do not have access to. The $60,000 Master Plan was funded by Baltimore Casino Local Development Council, which is one of two organizations that manages local impact grants generated by Horseshoe Casino Baltimore. Recreation & Parks is working with SBGP, the other group that manages local impact grants, on securing $100,000 for improvements.

Solo Gibbs Park is also adjacent to the parking lots to M&T Bank Stadium. Bower said there have been discussions with the Ravens to develop the sports field and run some programming at the park.

The development site is also a unique funding opportunity for Recreation & Parks, said Bowers.

Recreation & Parks will look to secure funding for Solo Gibbs Park from State and City budgets.

While the demolition of Sharp-Leadenhall Elementary School and the new recreation center will likely take some time, Recreation & Parks is hoping to begin some improvements next year. This could include work to the northern section of the park across W. Hamburg St. that includes the tennis courts and playground, and improvements to the basketball ball courts that are at the western edge of the park near the stadium parking lots and the bridge for I-395.

Brower said it will likely be a 10-year project done in phases.

Overhead shot courtesy of Google Maps 

Latest Rendering courtesy of Baltimore City Recreation and Parks & Mahan Rykiel (click to enlarge) 

Previous concepts courtesy of Baltimore City Recreation and Parks & Mahan Rykiel (click to enlarge) 

A previous concept by Caves Vally Partners and RK&K Engineers 

Existing conditions 

The Sign at Solo Gibbs Park, Across the Street from the Proposed Development

 

About the Author:

Creator of SouthBmore.com and resident of SoBo. Graduate of Towson University and owner of Incept Multimedia, a full service video production company. Diehard Ravens and O's fan, beach volleyball enthusiast, dog lover and "bar food" foodie. Email me at [email protected] and follow me on Twitter at @SoBoKevin.
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