When Baltimore voters approved plans more than 25 years ago that eventually transformed the Inner Harbor from an industrial backwater into a top tourist site, they also wanted to ensure that a waterside park remained a priority.
While Harborplace spurred development, plans for a public park on the Inner Harbor's western shore were relegated to the shadows of buildings rising all around.
The city's Board of Estimates unanimously approved a $5 million deal to finally build the park. The spending board hired Allied Contractors Inc. yesterday to erect -- in nine months, no less -- a 3.2 acre open space between the new Baltimore Visitor Center and the Maryland Science Center.
For years, the spot has been used as a temporary parking lot and space for temporarily parked trailers, including one that sells tickets for Harbor Cruises.
"This is our attempt to finally, once and for all, to finish the west shore" of the Inner Harbor, said Paul Dombrowski, director of planning and design for the Baltimore Development Corp. "The Visitors Center is in place, the Science Center has expanded. Now we're going to finish this as a final park space."
Improving the west shore was one of the recommendations made in 2003 by designers hired to update the city's master plan to guide harbor redevelopment.
The park is scheduled to be ready for the public by April, offering a space for both festivals and recreation. The city has set the ambitious deadline because the Volvo Ocean Race, an around-the-world sailing competition, is returning to Baltimore and Annapolis in the spring.
"We have a very tight time schedule," Dombrowski said. "Brutally tight."
The city is confident that Allied Contractors of Baltimore, which is also rebuilding War Memorial Plaza, can get the job done on a site that provides stunning views of downtown.
"It's probably the most prominent part of the harbor," said M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the BDC, the city's economic development agency.
The park is planned to be about 2 feet higher than the promenade that borders the harbor. The elevation will allow for the creation of terrace-step walls to provide perches for people-watching and skyline viewing, Dombrowski said.
A large central lawn, surrounded by trees and islands of Free State flora, will stretch the length of a football field and connect to tree-shaded paths lined with benches and wall seating.
The park will be built to accommodate a water fountain and a performance pavilion, but those amenities are not expected to be completed by April, Dombrowski said.
"It's a truly multipurpose park," Dombrowski said.
Officials said that the police substation and the city dockmaster's office on the site would be placed in the first floor of the Rusty Scupper restaurant and that a place would be found for the ticket booth of Harbor Cruises, which generates about $400,000 in annual taxes to the city.