Dutch Architecture Firm West 8 Wins Middle Branch Waterfront Design Competition

| July 29, 2019 | 0 Comments

Dutch architecture firm West 8 received the highest ranking in the Middle Branch Waterfront design competition. The City of Baltimore will begin contract negotiations with West 8 as part of its planning for a phased, multi-year design and construction project for the 11-mile-plus park system along the shoreline of the Patapsco River in South Baltimore.

West 8 was selected to compete in this competition along with New York City’s James Corner Field Operation and New York City’s Hargreaves Jones. West 8 is based in Rotterdam, The Netherlands and has offices in Belgium and New York City. Projects West 8 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.

West 8 came up with a bold and likely very expensive vision for the Middle Branch. The plan 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 in the middle of the bridge was also added to the plan.

West 8 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 designed for Middle Branch Park, and water taxi stops were added throughout the area.

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 yearly casino impact grants for South Baltimore and which has contributed $350,000 to this project so far.

The proposals by the three firms in the competition were revealed to the public on May 29th and were on display for public comment until June 12th.

The ranking of the three firms was made by a jury of local leaders and national experts, including Geoffrey W. Washington, chair of the board of South Baltimore Gateway Partnership; Michael G. Middleton, Jr., Chair of South Baltimore 7 (SB7); Susannah Drake, Founding Principal of DLANDstudio in New York City; Kate Orff, Director of the Graduate Urban Design Program Columbia University and Founder of SCAPE, a landscape architecture and urban design firm based in New York City; and Reginald Moore, Director of the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks. The jury was facilitated by Reed Kroloff of the Chicago-based design selection firm Jones/Kroloff and observed by Dr. Franklin Lance, Interim President and CEO of Parks & People Foundation.

Each of the firm’s proposals were evaluated for technical merit, feasibility of the ideas, ability to integrate community feedback, originality of design vision, and responsiveness to the competition’s objectives and to the site and its context, as well as the overall quality and clarity of the presentation materials.

Parks & People forwarded a list ranking the jury’s assessment of the three firms’ proposals and qualifications to to Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young. He accepted the ranking and directed City departments to begin analyzing issues that should be addressed in contract negotiations with West 8. If the City and West 8 cannot reach acceptable terms, the City will continue down the list in rank order.

“I am extremely excited to learn that the jury recommended West 8 as the landscape architecture firm to advance the Middle Branch Waterfront Plan,” said Mayor Young in a press release. “We received three impressive proposals, but I agreed with the jury of community leaders and experts in the field that West 8’s vision most closely aligns with what residents want to see in their communities. I want to thank all three firms for their hard work and inspiration throughout this selection process, and also the members of the jury for lending their time, expertise and thoughtfulness as we work to create a better Baltimore for residents and visitors alike.”

A Middle Branch Master Plan was created in 2007 by the Baltimore City Department of Planning. SBGP Executive Director Brad Rogers told SouthBMore.com in May 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.”

Several things were also already in the works for the Middle Branch prior to this competition. The 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 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 along with a renovation of the park space surrounding the adjacent Gwynns Falls Trail in partnership with Baltimore City Recreation and Parks; 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.

Current overhead shot courtesy of Google Maps

West 8 concepts video by Parks and People Foundation 

Photos of West 8’s 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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