The city's design panel considered two proposals Thursday that would update the look of Baltimore's Inner Harbor, but the plans met with decidedly mixed reviews.

The Downtown Partnership and the owner of the Harborplace pavilions are each seeking major overhauls of the downtown tourist and leisure zone, which would break from the long-standing design of the urban renovation project credited with transforming the city's waterfront more than 30 years ago.

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The Downtown Partnership, the nonprofit that oversees the downtown improvement district, wants to start work this spring on a makeover of McKeldin Plaza, demolishing a skywalk and the existing concrete Brutalist-style fountain to install trees, a new sloping lawn and circular fountain, where water would bubble up from the ground.

Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp., the New York firm that purchased the Harborplace pavilions in 2012 for nearly $100 million, wants to strip out awnings, first-floor greenhouses and a drop-off area on Pratt Street to create a sleeker look. Renderings show the building outlined in a black steel grid, with glass, copper and wood panels.

The Urban Design & Architecture Review Panel approved the Ashkenazy proposal and praised the architects for their progress — despite expressing continued reservations about significant parts of the design, such as the wood material.

Signs on the building will be reviewed separately. The company also is changing the tenant mix, but Stephanie Mineo, Ashkenazy's senior vice president of leasing, declined to comment on those plans.

She said she was relieved to get the final go-ahead but declined to share the project's budget or timeline without seeing the panel's written comments.

"It was a little touch-and-go," Mineo said.

The fate of the McKeldin Plaza plan was even less clear.

Overhauling the plaza, an idea included in the 2008 Pratt Street master plan, has become controversial, with some criticizing the decision to demolish the existing fountain to make way for a plan with uncertain funding.

Richard Jones, president of Mahan Rykiel Associates, said the new proposal presented Thursday was designed to respond to that critique, focusing on immediate improvements to the area, a 2-acre triangle wedged between two spurs of Light Street as it transitions from Federal Hill into downtown.

The Downtown Partnership has secured $3.4 million in city, state and private funds for the project, which could cost about $6 million, said President Kirby Fowler. The organization's business members feel redoing the plaza is "absolutely necessary," he said.

"It's got to be better than it is today," he said, adding that the partnership intends to start by demolishing the skywalk that connects the plaza to the Hyatt Regency Baltimore.

Panel members were unconvinced.

Architect Richard Burns said the project would not significantly improve the area, as the High Line park, created on former elevated rail tracks, did to part of New York.

"To me, that has to be the rationale for this project. It has to be transformational," he said. "I don't see in this what I would consider to be transformational."

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Burns said he was worried the some of the plantings would create security problems, as well as the lack of alignment between the center created by the circular fountain and the axis of the plaza's amphitheater, which might be redone at a later phase.

Planning Director Thomas J. Stosur said there is more work to be done.

"We've explored lots of different ideas and it's still not necessarily something everyone can look at and say yes, 'This is it,'" he said.

After the meeting, Fowler said he is still optimistic about moving forward.

And Jones said there is no parallel between the High Line and McKeldin Plaza.

"It's a wholly different experience and a wholly different space," he said.

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