Updated Renderings Revealed for ‘Reimagine Middle Branch’ Plan

| March 8, 2022 | 0 Comments

Last month, James Corner Field Operations revealed updated renderings for the “Reimagine Middle Branch” plan. The Reimagine Middle Branch plan is a partnership between the City of Baltimore, South Baltimore Gateway Partnership, Parks & People Foundation, and James Corner Field Operations to “reconnect South Baltimore to the 11-plus miles of shoreline along the Patapsco River.”

The plan looks to unite the 19 neighborhoods of South Baltimore by connecting them to one another and to the waterfront. Its three building principles are “Protect and Connect the Shoreline; Transform Barriers into Connections; and Strengthen Communities with Parks and Programs.”

James Corner Field Operations began collecting feedback last summer, put forward initial renderings last fall, and will produce a final plan in the next three to four months. James Corner Field Operations is currently collecting feedback on the latest renderings.

James Corner Field Operations is planning this project with participation from local communities, developers, and business owners. Along with James Corner Field Operations, the design team includes Mahan Rykiel Associates, Design Jones, Waldon Studio, Toole Design, Kofi Boone, Urbane Development, Assedo Consulting, The Urban Studio, Public Mechanics, Moffatt & Nichol, Biohabitats, and Durham Consulting.

The three “Priority Project Zones” are an expanded Middle Branch Park in Cherry Hill, new developments and parks in Ridgely’s Cove, and an 11-mile “Loop Trail.” The trail will link the Middle Branch along the waterfront from the under-development Reedbird Park in Cherry Hill all the way up to Ridgely’s Cove in Stadium Area.

From the plan:

An Expanded Middle Branch Park

In Cherry Hill, the plan centers on an expanded Middle Branch Park that links Middle Branch Fitness and Wellness Center in Reedbird Park with the shoreline around Medstar Harbor Hospital and reaches Smith Cove near the intersection of Waterview Avenue and Kloman Street, where it connects to a proposed waterfront development at Westport. Traffic calming measures in the Hanover/Potee Street corridor and new access points bring Reedbird Island and Brooklyn’s other shoreline spaces into the expanded park network.

In the heart of the Middle Branch Park, a range of improvements are envisioned, including a new boathouse, improved boating and fishing piers, and an expanded playground. The existing boathouse is proposed to be adapted for social space and a food hall or marketplace. An outdoor covered pavilion serves to house large gatherings, like family reunions. “Complete streets” treatments for Waterview Avenue, including a new intersection at Seamon Avenue, will enhance pedestrian safety and access between Cherry Hill and Middle Branch Park.

Work is underway to create an improved waterfront trail with separated bike and pedestrian lanes that will connect these areas. From the trail, boardwalks and overlooks would provide access to marshes and other features of a new “living shoreline.”  The Middle Branch Marina is proposed to be reconfigured and opened to a mix of public and private uses, maintaining the live-aboard community there today while adding educational and recreational programming. West of the marina in Smith Cove, the design features restored marshes and Chesapeake maritime forests, fishing piers, pavilions, and a nature-based playground.

Ridgely’s Cove

The Middle Branch’s public open space network will front new, proposed developments in Westport and Port Covington and extend north to Ridgely’s Cove, where large expanses of marsh will form a “maritime park” that also functions as green-stormwater infrastructure and creates a new natural area at the mouth of the Gwynns Falls. The proposed trail network in Ridgley’s Cove includes boardwalks and a new east-west pedestrian bridge that connects Westport with Port Covington, and links three parks: Black Sox Park to the west, Swann Park to the east and a new “Underpass Park” at Stockholm and Sharp Streets.

Named for the Negro League Baseball team that used to play there, Black Sox Park offers the opportunity for a range of activation, from a youth baseball field to a set of trails winding through woodlands and wetlands. An African American Heritage Trail connects the park to other historically and culturally significant sites. Across Ridgely’s Cove, Swann Park is reoriented to the water, with a beach, canoe and kayak launch and boat rentals. Underpass Park would provide communities to the north of the Middle Branch a new waterfront open space that includes a skate park, sports courts, and boat launch.

The Loop Trail

The Loop Trail will connect all these parks and open spaces with bike and walking trails, creating an 11-mile circuit around the Middle Branch that connects to regional trails, including Gwynns Falls Trail to the northwest and the BWI and East Coast Greenway trails to the south. In addition to providing connections and recreational opportunities, segments of trail network will tell a story about South Baltimore’s culture and history, linking significant places and offering new cultural programming.

Unlike some other ideas floated by design teams bidding for this project, James Corner Field Operations is not proposing any major changes to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge. Megan Born, senior associate landscape architect and urban designer at James Corner Field Operations, told SouthBMore.com the future of the bridge depends on a structural analysis. The Reimagine Middle Branch Plan sees improvements to the bridge that would add protected bike lanes and larger sidewalks.

Other ideas floated in this process, which began with a design competition in 2019, included building a new bridge while turning the existing bridge into a park, and creating a separate bridge for pedestrians.

A two-year study that wrapped up in 2018 recommended a $50-million renovation of the 106-year-old bridge. Baltimore City Department of Transportation (DOT) has not yet secured any funding for this project.

James Corner Field Operations is proposing eliminating a section of Potee St. that splits off of S. Hanover St. just south of the bridge and expanding Middle Branch Park as a result. A small strip mall currently sits in between where the two streets split.

When asked about the elimination of this property, Born said her team would love to see mixed-used development on the land owned by MedStar in between S. Hanover St. and Potee St. just south of this strip mall.

James Corner Field Operations is also proposing turning both S. Hanover St. and Potee St. into two-way streets. The Little Hanover and Potee St. bridges that connect Cherry Hill to Brooklyn would go from “overscaled highways to neighborhood streets” with bike lanes, wide sidewalks, and fishing overlooks.

Underpass Park would take the place of a Maryland Transportation Authority-owned parking lot underneath I-395 in Stadium Area. It’s adjacent to a new Extra Space Storage and across the street from The Parker Metal Building and Checkerspot Brewing Company.

Born said Underpass Park would provide a gateway from the Middle Branch trail system into the neighborhoods north of Ridgley’s Cove such South Baltimore, Sharp-Leadenhall, Otterbein, and Federal Hill.

Born noted the plan advises a new east-west bridge from Port Covington to Westport instead of renovating the existing Springs Garden rail bridge. She said the reason is to “preserve a lot of flexibility here.”

The bridge is owned by CSX and Born said there is a question of whether CSX would want to transfer the rights. She noted the Light Rail could potentially use the rail bridge one day for a proposed spur to Port Covington. But, the plan does show a small connection between the new bridge and the rail bridge.

The east-west bridge is one of the earliest priorities in the Reimagine Middle Branch plan. Another early priority is an improved trail system that connects the boat house at Middle Branch Park to the Middle Branch Fitness and Wellness Center. This trail goes underneath the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge, along the waterfront in front of MedStar Harbor Hospital, and underneath the Little Hanover and Potee St. bridges before connecting with Reedbird Park.

Born said the trail only has about six feet of headroom going under the Little Hanover and Potee St. bridges and that a new alignment would be needed to fix this connection.

Funding for this work comes from a mix of sources: Casino local impact grant funds, managed by the City of Baltimore and South Baltimore Gateway Partnership, are paying for the plan, as is a Maryland State capital grant. Casino impact grants also contribute to the $25 million total construction cost of the Fitness and Wellness Center and adjacent sports field complex. A mix of federal, state, and local grants have been secured for wetland construction and trail projects.

“Our work to ‘reimagine Middle Branch’ is a key component of our larger strategies to revamp and reinvigorate recreation opportunities and outdoor spaces throughout our city,” said Mayor Brandon M. Scott in a press release. “This is about providing clean, accessible, and modern spaces that show our residents, particularly our young people, that they matter. That we care about them and are going to do everything in our power to give them the best quality-of-life possible.”

“The City of Baltimore, South Baltimore Gateway Partnership, and their community partners are boldly envisioning an area of improved parks and shorelines supported by equitable economic development throughout the neighborhoods. It’s a holistic approach,” said Born in a press release.

“The plan integrates physical planning with economic development that prioritizes job creation, entrepreneurism and increasing the future earning potential of local residents,” said Brad Rogers, executive director of South Baltimore Gateway Partnership, in a press release. “Alongside new public space amenities, we are equally focused on local workforce development and business incubation opportunities, such as green jobs involved in maintaining and monitoring the restored wetlands, and pop-up markets for local vendors.”

Renderings and captions from James Corner Field Operations (Click to enlarge)

The East-West Pedestrian Bridge will connect Westport and Mt. Winans to Port Covington over Ridgley’s Cove

New wetlands and boardwalks will transform Ridgely’s Cove into nature-based parkland

A new beach, kayak launch, and boat rental will bring new life to Swann Park and reorient the park to Ridgely’s Cove

Underpass Park will activate the space beneath I-395 and connect to Solo Gibbs Park and Sharp-Leadenhall

Middle Branch Park will oer new opportunities for boating, fishing, gatherings and events, and include high-quality pedestrian and bike connections to Cherry Hill along Waterview Avenue

Shade trees and a performance stage will improve the popular event lawn in Middle Branch Park

A new event pavilion will offer spaces for community gatherings, family reunions, cookouts and parties on the water

A new play space near the boathouse in Middle Branch Park

An expanded boathouse and new piers will oer more opportunities for rowing, kayaking and canoeing on the Middle Branch

A restored shoreline and improved trail will connect Middle Branch Park to the new Cherry Hill Fitness and Wellness Center in front of Harbor Hospital

New fishing piers and wetlands featuring native Chesapeake Bay planting in Smith Cove

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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.