An updated design of Rash Field Park
An updated design of Rash Field Park (Courtesy of Mahan Rykiel)

After years of planning, work is expected to begin this winter to upgrade Rash Field, the 8-acre recreational expanse on the south shore of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

Baltimore’s spending panel, the Board of Estimates, approved spending $9.5 million Wednesday for design and construction of the project and formally named the nonprofit Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore to oversee the work. The partnership reports it also has commitments from the state for $4 million and has raised nearly $2 million from private sources.

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The first phase of work is expected to cost $16.8 million with construction starting in January, the group said.

“Currently an unattractive and underutilized space on the Inner Harbor’s south shore, Rash Field will be transformed into an active recreation and play space by spring 2021,” said Laurie Schwartz, the Waterfront Partnership’s president and CEO, in a statement.

The first phase now calls for a children’s nature park, a kinetic playground, a small skate park, a shade lawn, a pavilion with an outdoor café and several rain gardens. An overlook atop the pavilion will offer visitors views of the harbor and city skyline.

The architecture firm Mahan Rykiel was chosen from 13 bidders in 2015 to design the new amenities. Whiting-Turner will serve as construction manager and general contractor.

The Waterfront Partnership will begin fundraising for the second phase, expected to include an updated and reorganized beach volleyball area and an open lawn for play, events and school soccer games. There also will be outdoor exercise equipment, jogging paths, a bird and butterfly lab, and a pride memorial.

The work is separate from improvements to Key Highway that have stymied road and foot traffic around the harbor.

Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said in a statement the Rash Field upgrades would offer “a safe and central destination for families from all across the city as well as for tourists,” noting that “positive activities for children and youth has proven to be an effective crime fighting tool.”

The plan did draw concern from one local activist, Kim Trueheart, who wrote in a letter to the Board of Estimate, that officials may not have sought enough public input on the project. In her letter, she asked for a delay in approvals until “voices of youths of color were embraced and fostered."

“Rash Field, in the Inner Harbor, represents a jewel for all residents yet it is often deemed off-limits to youth of color,” she wrote. "Specifically, by providing well maintained city-owned recreational facilities the operations at these facilities can be enhanced to offer high quality programming and services to everyone and voices of all must be included."

Schwartz said there was great effort made to include a range of city voices, including from minority and student groups. She also said there would be more opportunities for input on the second phase.

City Council President Brandon Scott asked the Waterfront Partnership to address the concerns in a meeting. Schwartz said that meeting is planned.

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

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