Three International Architecture Firms Reveal Concepts for Middle Branch Waterfront Design Competition

| May 30, 2019 | 0 Comments

Last night, concepts were revealed for a competition that aims to turn the Middle Branch Waterfront into a more than 11-mile park system in South Baltimore along the shoreline of the Patapsco River. Parks and People Foundation is managing the project on behalf of the City of Baltimore and working with local partners including the South Baltimore Gateway Partnership (SBGP) which manages more than $7 million in casino impact grants each year for South Baltimore and which has contributed $350,000 to this project so far.

Following a search that generated proposals from some of the top landscape architecture firms around the world, three teams were selected to compete for the opportunity to lead the transformation of the Middle Branch Waterfront. The firms were selected by a committee of waterfront property owners, community representatives, government leaders, and technical experts. Each team is partnering with Baltimore-based firms to ensure local knowledge and perspective.

The first firm selected was James Corner Field Operation, which is based in New York City and has offices in Philadelphia, San Francisco, London, and Shenzhen, China. James Corner’s projects include South Park at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London; Chicago’s Navy Pier; the HighLine in New York City; Seattle’s Central Waterfront; and the Tsim Sha Tsui Waterfront in Hong Kong.

The second firm is New York City’s Hargreaves Jones, which also has offices in San Francisco and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Hargreaves Jones’ notable projects include Haihe River Ribbon Park in Tianjin, China; New Orleans’ Crescent Park Waterfront; Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London; JFK Plaza/Love Park in Philadelphia; and Zaryadye Park in Moscow.

The final firm in the competition is West8 which is based in Rotterdam, The Netherlands and has offices in Belgium and New York City. Projects West8 has worked on include the Toronto Central Waterfront; The New Hondsbossche Dunes in Petten, The Netherlands; Governors Island in New York City; Xinhua Waterfront Park in Shanghai, China; and Madrid Rio River Renewal Project in Madrid, Spain.

The competition’s wining firm will have the opportunity to lead a project to revitalize this part of Baltimore’s waterfront. The project will be designed to link nearby neighborhoods to an activated waterfront via a connected system of parks and trails. It will include a focus on restoring wetlands and creating opportunities for water- and land-based recreation that serve both visitors and nearby residents.

“Our vision for the Middle Branch Waterfront is that it will be the newest crown jewel in Baltimore’s inventory of great public parks: one of the country’s next great urban waterfronts,” said Lisa Schroeder, CEO of the Parks and People Foundation, in a press release. “It is exciting to see that three of the top landscape architecture firms in the world are competing to design a connected park and trail system for the people of Baltimore, creating new prospects for residents and enabling this area of our city to reach its potential.”

The concept boards can be viewed from today until June 12th at the Enoch Pratt Free Library Cherry Hill Branch and at City Garage in Port Covington. Public comments can also be made.

A jury of local representatives and technical experts will assess the final submissions, review the public comments, and interview the teams, after which they will recommend their winning selection to Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young.

A Middle Branch Master Plan was created in 2007 by the Baltimore City Department of Planning. SBGP Executive Director Brad Rogers told SouthBMore.com the Middle Branch Master Plan is a ‘narrative plan’ and that this project actually moves into the design phase using concepts from the master plan. “We have a lot happening now around the Middle Branch, and we need to orchestrate this effort together with the stakeholders,” he said.

Rogers said the winning firm will probably spend about $1 million to $2 million on the new design plan that will likely be done in phases. There will be phasing analysis to decide which parts of the plan should be implemented first. SBGP will contribute funding to Middle Branch improvements as it has been selected as the organization’s “transformational project” along with the enhanced services and community grants it funds in South Baltimore.

Rogers noted there are important differences between the Middle Branch and Baltimore’s other harbor, the Inner Harbor. “Inner Harbor is tourist-focused and the Middle Branch will be neighborhood-focused,” he said. “We want to connect the South Baltimore neighborhood with the waterfront they’ve been divided from for so long. The Inner Harbor has a hard edge and the Middle Branch will have lots of beautifully landscaped common space right at the water’s edge. ”

“Canton and Fells Point have been able to use their waterfront to drive their economy where they want to go,” said Rogers. “We want to give the neighborhoods in South Baltimore the same opportunity to chart a path for themselves to use the waterfront to help them achieve their goals.”

The Proposals 

Before reviewing the proposals, it should be noted that Baltimore City Department of Transportation (DOT) recently completed a two-year study recommending a $50-million reconstruction of the deck of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge (Hanover Street Bridge) into a four-lane bridge with two protected pedestrian lanes. The Port Covington Development team, which is underway on a 235-acre, multi-decade, $5.5-billion development of Port Covington, has earmarked future Tax Increment Financing (TIF) bond funds for the reconstruction of the Spring Gardens Swing Bridge into a pedestrian bridge that would connect Westport to Port Covington near Swann Park.

The Port Covington Development team has made improvements to West Covington Park along the Middle Branch in recent years and it currently has a waterfront path and is connected to a Port Covington bike path.

Plank Industries of the Port Covington Development Team also owns a 43-acre waterfront parcel in Westport that occupies the western shore of the Middle Branch.

Other key parcels around the Middle Branch are the City-owned Middle Branch Park which occupies much of the south shore of the Middle Branch along with Smith Cove on the southwest portion, Exelon’s Spring Gardens facility along the eastern shore of Ridgelys Cove, the Gwynns Falls Trail which has trails along the western shores of Ridgely’s Cove, the northern tip of Ridgely’s Cove which CBAC and Topgolf are planning a Topgolf at, and waste-to-energy incinerator Wheelabrator on the western shore of Ridgely’s Cove. MedStar Harbor Hospital has a large waterfront property at the mouth of the Middle Branch on the south shore.

SBGP has put more than $150,000 into maintenance of Middle Branch Park this year which includes landscaping improvements and clearing shrubs on the water’s edge that have obstructed views of the water.

SBGP is involved in funding a trash wheel at the Gywnns Falls which is responsible for much of the trash floating in the Middle Branch. Rogers said this will be installed and operating by the end of the year.

West8’s Concepts

West8 came up with a bold and likely very expensive vision for the Middle Branch which coverts the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge into a park while constructing a new bridge that connects West Peninsula Dr. in Port Covington, which is adjacent to the site of Under Armour’s planned future headquarters, to Brooklyn instead of Cherry Hill. A new island was added in the plan in the middle of the bridge.

West8 has added a trail system looping around the Middle Branch and into Ridgely’s Cove with new pedestrian bridges and new marshlands adjacent to each shoreline. The plan also converts the Spring Gardens Swing Bridge into a pedestrian bridge. A new band shell and amphitheater was additionally deigned for Middle Branch Park, and water taxi stops were added throughout the area.

Hargreaves Jones’ Concepts

Hargreaves Jones also plans a trail system throughout the area with new pedestrian bridges including converting the Spring Gardens Swing Bridge into a pedestrian bridge. The plan keeps the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge in place. Its plan includes new wetlands, a new Westport promenade, and a swimming barge. Changes to Middle Branch Park include new beaches, an event lawn and performance pavilion, a market plaza and shade pavilion, and wetlands and boardwalks. Smith Cove also would have a new beach and trail system.

James Corner Field Operation Concepts 

James Corner has added a separate pedestrian bridge adjacent to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge. The new pedestrian bridge is part of a trail system around the waterfront that includes promenades and bridges in Ridgely’s Cove that hang from the highway bridges. The swing on the Spring Gardens Swing Bridge is converted to a pier that is connected to the pedestrian bridges. Terraces and a beach have also been added to West Covington Park in Port Covington in this plan.

The shoreline of Middle Branch Park has been changed to include a beach, kayak and canoe launches, fishing piers, a picnic porch, and a kayak house. Smith Cove also has new fishing piers and a trail system.

James Corner additionally added a swimming pier adjacent to Sagamore Spirit Distillery in Port Covington in its plan.

Current overhead shot courtesy of Google Maps

West8 concepts video by Parks and People Foundation 

Photos of West8’s display boards (click to enlarge)

Hargreaves Jones concepts video by Parks and People Foundation 

Photos of Hargreaves Jones’ display boards (click to enlarge)

James Corner Field Operation concepts video by Parks and People Foundation 

Photos of James Corner Field Operation display boards (click to enlarge)

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, 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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