There are plenty of traffic signs that direct drivers to Baltimore's famed Inner Harbor, but none that actually tells people when they've arrived.
For those who could use more guidance, the Schmoke administration is planning a civic first: a large gateway with a banner-like sign that proclaims: "INNER HARBOR."
Baltimore's Architectural Review Board last week approved a design by RTKL Associates for an 18-foot-tall gateway near the intersection of Conway and Light streets.
The gateway will define the entrance to a landscaped brick walkway just south of the Light Street pavilion of Harborplace. It will frame views of the harbor for those heading east on Conway Street. And it will mark the first time that the city has erected any kind of permanent sign to denote the location of the 240-acre Inner Harbor redevelopment area -- 30 years after then-Mayor Theodore McKeldin launched a campaign to rejuvenate it.
The gateway was commissioned by Baltimore Development Corp., the city agency that oversees downtown development. Construction is due to begin late next summer, with the city and the state each covering half of the $380,000 cost, which includes design fees.
Shubroto Bose, director of architecture and urban design for the development agency, said the project grew out of a desire by planners to make better use of Conway Street as a link between the Inner Harbor and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
"Once the ballpark opened, Conway Street became very popular as an entrance and exit point for the Inner Harbor," Mr. Bose said. "It's where many visitors get their first glimpse of the Inner Harbor."
RTKL came up with the idea of creating a literal gateway that also serves as a symbolic threshold to the waterfront.
"We wanted to do something that caught your eye, was fun, was in keeping with the Inner Harbor, but wasn't frivolous," said Phillip Engelke, vice president and director of graphics for RTKL."
"Coming down Conway Street, there's nothing to introduce people to the Inner Harbor. It's right in front of them, but they don't know it," added RTKL staff designer Ilona Stevens.
The gateway will be an implied arch with metal pillars supporting lighted signs that spell out INNER HARBOR. Atop one pillar will be an aluminum silhouette of the aquarium's glass pyramid; atop the other will be a silhouette of the Pier 4 Power Plant's smokestacks. Both will also feature clipper-ship silhouettes. An adjoining fence will be made of cast concrete pillars and painted steel.
After walking through the gateway, visitors will come to a brick pathway shaded by more than 50 tulip poplar trees, further framing views of the water.
Connected to the Inner Harbor promenade, the walkway will contain engraved bricks sold by the Baltimore Harbor Endowment to raise funds for harbor activities and improvements. The nonprofit group's goal is to create an unbroken 7 1/2 -mile promenade along the shoreline, from Canton to south Baltimore.
Engraved bricks are already in place at Belt's Landing and on Broadway Pier, both in Fells Point.
Other new sites designated for engraved bricks next year are near Little Italy and the Canton Waterfront Park. The bricks cost $100 for the Inner Harbor site and $60 for all other sites. They may be ordered as holiday gifts by calling 732-8155 or by writing to the endowment at 800 S. Broadway, Suite 200, Baltimore, Md. 21231.