First, the Digital Harbor. Now the Digital Valley?
That's one of the visions suggested yesterday for Baltimore's Jones Falls Valley during a five-hour brainstorming session held to generate ideas to rejuvenate the corridor.
Imagine, planners said, a bustling corridor where old mill buildings are filled to the brim with high-tech entrepreneurs working on e-commerce projects that will revolutionize the industry.
Or maybe a tourism and recreational zone where people travel by light rail, bike and even canoe to art galleries, crafts shops and museums along the way.
Or new houses and apartments, rising on reclaimed landfills and industrial sites.
More than 100 residents, business owners, architects, environmentalists and planners gathered at Loyola College to propose ideas for improving a four-mile stretch of the valley, from Penn Station north to Lake Roland.
Consultants will use the ideas to draft a master plan that can guide economic development and environmental restoration efforts along the valley over the next 40 years. Led by Al Barry of A. B. Associates, they want to have a preliminary report ready for the community to consider by Sept. 17, the start of the annual Jones Falls Celebration weekend.
The valley is "arguably the most undervalued resource in Baltimore," said Bill Miller, executive director of the Greater Homewood Community Corp. "It's only been in recent years that people have started to say that it could be an asset to the region, and we have to build on that."
Bill Struever is a partner in Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, a local contracting and development firm that gave $25,000 to help underwrite the planning.
Struever has been a key figure in promoting the waterfront as the "Digital Harbor," a setting for Internet entrepreneurs and others launching high-tech businesses and seeking funky old buildings to house them. He suggested that the campaign to rejuvenate the Jones Falls corridor is similar to the effort to revive Baltimore's harborfront, in that the "driving force" of both is creating jobs.
Struever Bros. has 65 Internet ventures in its buildings now, and there is more than 2 million square feet of space in the mills along the Jones Falls, Struever said.
Other suggestions were to:
Create a lake beneath the Howard Street Bridge that could be a new recreational site and art park for the Maryland Institute, College of Art and others.
Open a theater in the ruins of the Clipper Mill industrial park, damaged by fire five years ago.
Turn a Housing Authority building east of Penn Station into a home for the Fire Museum of Maryland, now in Lutherville, and expansion space for the Streetcar Museum of Maryland.
Designate the area north of Penn Station as an empowerment zone to give tax incentives to businesses that move there.
Build a transit-oriented community near Cold Spring Lane and the Jones Falls Expressway, using land never developed as part of Coldspring New Town.
The Jones Falls Master Plan is being developed by a partnership of the Baltimore Development Corp.; Baltimore Zoo; Greater Homewood Community Corp.; Jones Falls Watershed Association; Mass Transit Administration; Parks and People Foundation; Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, and residents.