Downtown would glow at night under full-length gown of light


Baltimore's picture-postcard skyline would be as distinctiv by night as it is by day under an ambitious campaign intended to put the city in a better light -- literally.

A three-step program called "Brighten Baltimore" is being spearheaded by the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., the Downtown Partnership and the Building Owners and Managers Association of Baltimore.

Taking their lead from light-up campaigns in other cities -- including New York, Dallas, Cleveland and Miami -- the sponsors are charting a master lighting plan to show off Baltimore's architectural treasures while helping to increase the perception of safety and vitality downtown.

"This is an economic development program" for the city, not a revenue-producing program for BG&E;, said Ed Skoglin, marketing and energy services manager. "A bright skyline will make downtown more inviting and attractive."

"There's a psychological aspect to it," said BG&E; program administrator Ellen Bowman. "People feel more secure in a well-lighted environment."

The campaign's three phases are:

* All-Star backdrop. Aware that Baltimore will be thrust into the national limelight when it hosts the All-Star Game on July 13, the local group wants the TV cameras to pan across a well illuminated skyline as the backdrop to Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The building owners association will ask members to turn on interior lights of all buildings visible from the ballpark on July 12 and July 13. "That's when Baltimore will shine, and we want to really help it shine," said Executive Director Thomas Shaner.

* "Streetscape" lighting. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has agreed to fund a five-year capital program that will upgrade lighting levels on downtown streets. The Downtown Partnership will also develop inexpensive ways that property owners can increase lighting around their buildings.

* Exterior lighting. To brighten the skyline on a permanent basis, BG&E; is coordinating plans to light the exteriors of more than two dozen tall buildings downtown, such as the Holiday Inn, Marriott, Signet Tower and Mercantile tower. It has hired a lighting specialist, Grenald Associates of Narberth, Pa., to develop recommendations for illuminating individual buildings and will be making presentations to property owners.

To show what can be done, BG&E; recently lighted the top of its own headquarters at a cost of $25,000. The treatment is a good example of lighting designed to accentuate the architectural features of an older building without being glitzy.

Grenald has developed a "lighting mock-up" that suggests strategies for illuminating buildings visible from Oriole Park. They range from up-lighting for the crenelated top of the Bromo Seltzer tower to blue neon tracing the outline of the office tower at 250 W. Pratt St.

Initial costs may range from $1,000 to $2,000 for a relatively modest installation to $100,000 or more. While waste of energy is always a concern, Mr. Skoglin said new lights are more efficient than ever and that property owners are unlikely to see much difference in energy usage over time.

One mid-size building that has already been lighted is the Park Plaza at Charles and Madison streets, home of Donna's Coffee Bar and other tenants. After dark, its south facade is lighted with a combination of gooseneck lamps that illuminate the outdoor cafe and up-lighting that washes the building's upper floors.

Cafe owners Donna Crivello and Alan Hirsch said they installed the lights as a joint venture with the building's owners, the Time Group. "It benefits the whole neighborhood," Mr. Hirsch said.

Free concerts

Starting tonight, the Downtown Partnership and Baltimore's Office of Promotion will light up the night in another way by launching two free concert series downtown.

Saxophonist Sonny Fortune will kick off a new jazz and blues series in Baltimore's Center Plaza, bounded by Fayette, Charles and Liberty streets. It runs from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Meanwhile, Stryker's Posse and the Winston Grennan Ska-Rocks Band will open the La Provence Thursday Night Concert Series from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. in Hopkins Plaza. Both series will run every Thursday until July 29.

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