Should Baltimore City sell virtually half of Redwood Street to promote the speculative real estate scheme of a private developer? This is the issue before municipal authorities in Leonard Attman's request to acquire two lanes of Redwood Street so he can build a 32-story office tower known as Baltimore Financial Centre.
The sooner the city rejects this bid, the better.
Since the days before World War I, when it was known as German Street, Redwood Street has been in the center of Baltimore's financial district. Major banks are in the area, so are important law firms and shops. In fact, for decades, the signature of the whole downtown skyline was written by the 780-foot-tall Maryland National Bank tower and its glorious Art Deco ornaments.
If Baltimore wants to improve the attractiveness of its downtown, two things are crucial. One is to operate in an atmosphere that encourages quality development and the economic benefits it brings. The other is not to do anything that might create blight and congestion and force major firms to leave downtown for Owings Mills, the BWI corridor or White Marsh.
If the Redwood Street proposal were decided solely on the merits of the building's design, there could be little dispute. The architectural firm of Ayers/Saint/Gross has produced a handsome plan for the 450,000-square-foot structure. We particularly like the way it respects the themes of the Maryland National Bank landmark. But what good is a splendid design if it gobbles up half of a busy two-way street and creates an obstructive canyon on a prime downtown block?
The city planning commission is troubled by the situation, as it should be. But it seems to seek a compromise that would allow the developer to take less of Redwood Street. Even this would set a bad precedent that would muddle the planning process and create future traffic congestion for the downtown area that the city should avoid.
Baltimore City's grid of streets is not necessarily sacrosanct. However, any departures from that grid should be made only for compelling reasons of public interest. So far, we have not seen any compelling reason why the city should sacrifice Redwood Street for a speculative building project. This is a test case that either strengthens the planning process or opens it to unneeded bargaining and hucksterism.