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Money sought to fund $3.5 million makeover of Inner Harbor plaza

The Downtown Partnership of Baltimore is looking for money to fund the replacement of the deteriorating McKeldin Plaza fountain with trees and a grassy park by 2016.

Downtown Partnership President Kirby Fowler said there is consensus among the city and other downtown stakeholders on designs, which show a trapezoid of green where the 1981 multi-level fountain currently stands.  The estimated cost of demolition and creation of the park, which would include trees and a “basic water feature” is about $3.5 million, he said.

Fowler said his group, a civic organization funded by local property owners, hopes to complete construction designs by next spring, with demolition and construction expected to take at least a year. He said his group is in negotiations with three firms to craft more detailed plans. He declined to name the firms because the contracts have not been signed.

Fowler said the current plans work with a more long-term vision for the plaza, which calls for squaring Light Street to connect the plaza with the Inner Harbor amphitheatre. But he said starting on a first phase is urgent, pointing to graffiti and deterioration of the structure, where he said one pump is currently malfunctioning.

“It is the entry point into downtown,” Fowler said. “For millions of visitors the first thing they see when they arrive at Conway and Light is the back of Harborplace and an old fountain that doesn’t work.”

The city unveiled plans for $100 million makeover of the Pratt Street corridor in 2008. At the time, the vision called for the demolition of the fountain, as well as pedestrian bridges that cross the main thoroughfares.

Since 2008, the Downtown Partnership has led the relandscaping of parts of Pratt Street, removing a Pratt Street skywalk and the mounds of earth that once lined the sidewalk to create a more pedestrian-friendly experience.

The city has agreed to contribute $300,000 to the McKeldin Plaza makeover, and the Downtown Partnership will also contribute at least $300,000, Fowler said. The Downtown Partnership also intends to seek state funding, and is in the process of soliciting private funds.

“We’re going to cobble together the funding like we’ve cobbled together the Pratt Street initiative to date,” he said. “We’ve just been plugging away at it.”

Phase 1 for the  McKeldin Plaza, named for former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor Theodore McKeldin, would involve the tear down of a skywalk that crosses Light Street close to the fountain. The owners of Harborplace recently rebuilt a second footbridge that crosses near the Hooters restaurant, Fowler said. 

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