Harrah's garage continues to draw criticism from design panel

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore's Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel on Thursday gave preliminary approval to the early design of the Harrah's casino that group led by Caesars Entertainment Corp. plans to build on an empty lot along Russell Street.

The panel remains concerned about the look of a massive parking garage that faces Interstates 95 and 395. It was the focus of the panelists' critcism during their first meeting about the project, last month.

Though the height of the garage has been reduced from about 120 feet to 100 feet, and vertical elements that echo the nearby Montgomery Park building were added to the design, the panelists continued to air concerns about how the garage will appear to drivers passing and entering the city.

Two large static billboards facing the interstates, which Caesars plans to use to advertise the casino, were particularly worrisome.

"I'm against advertising gambling on billboards at the entrance to the City of Baltimore," said Gary A. Bowden, who added that the billboards might distract drivers going at high speeds. "I wish that it would allow itself to be a nice building ... that isn't covered up by graphic elements."

The garage will mostly be constructed of colored concrete, said Chuck Jones, of the Las Vegas-based Friedmutter Group, one of the firms working on the design for Caesars.

Jones made clear to the panel that the design of the casino could change greatly if a referendum approving table games passes on Nov. 6. If that were to happen, Caesars has said it would put more money into the two-story casino, mostly to add more dining options, and use the company's Horseshoe brand at the site.

The garage, however, would not get a significantly larger investment.

The UDARP panel will continue to review Caesars' designs as they progress. The project will ultimately be reviewed by the Planning Commission.

Have a real estate news tip or experience to share? Email me at steve.kilar@baltsun.com.

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