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FOR ARTS DISTRICT ...

The Baltimore Sun

City officials plan to unveil a multiphase plan today to transform a 100-acre arts and entertainment district north of Pennsylvania Station into a $1 billion "cultural crossroads" for Baltimore over the next three decades.

Mayor Sheila Dixon is set to endorse the initiative for the Charles North renewal area, which is centered on the intersection of Charles Street and North Avenue and includes the state-designated Station North arts and entertainment district.

The Charles North Vision Plan includes 1,900 residences, 557,000 square feet of shopping space, 300,000 square feet of office space and 4,700 parking spaces in the area roughly bounded by St. Paul Street on the east, 20th and 21st streets on the north, Howard Street and Falls Road on the west and the Jones Falls Valley on the south.

The plan was developed over the past year by a design team led by some of the architects who brought Harborplace to Baltimore 30 years ago. It's intended to build on renewal efforts already under way, including an influx of arts venues and business incubators.

Highlights include: expansion of the 1911 Pennsylvania Station to include a hotel and shopping arcade north of the train tracks; residential towers for college students and professionals; a design district for artists and architects; redevelopment of historic landmarks such as the Parkway Theater, North Avenue Market and former Chesapeake Restaurant building; and a park along the Jones Falls Valley.

"The Charles North Vision Plan is the result of a strong partnership between the residents, business and the cultural community," Dixon said. "By coming together, we will build on the momentum that has already been taking place throughout the community, and help build a stronger and more sustainable neighborhood for everyone."

This initiative is different from previous proposals for revitalizing Charles North because it marks a fundamental change in how planners look at the area. Instead of treating it as a local exercise in commercial revitalization, involving new streetlights, facade repairs and other cosmetic improvements, it recasts the area as a regional destination, with the Amtrak and MARC lines that serve Penn Station giving it potential for large-scale, transit-oriented development.

"Up until now, we have seen it as a typical neighborhood revitalization struggle, with some housing revitalization and some Main Street-type revitalization on North Avenue," said Joseph McNeely, executive director of the Central Baltimore Partnership, one group working with the designers. "This time we're thinking bigger."

"We're going back to seeing the area the way it was 100 years ago - as a regional center," said Dale Dusman, pastor of St. Mark's Lutheran Church and president of the Charles North Community Association. "We don't want this to be a neighborhood that you drive though. We want people to spend time here. We want to bring back the spirit that used to be here. We want it to be an asset for the whole region."

In recent years, the area has seen a variety of independent developments, including the Metro Gallery, Station North Arts Cafe Gallery, Windup Space and Load of Fun galleries, Railway Express lofts and expansion of the Charles Theatre.

The latest vision - some of which would take years to complete - comes three months after the Dixon administration changed the boundaries of Baltimore's annual Artscape festival to include parts of the Charles North area, in hopes of showing its development potential.

"This area is already undergoing an exciting renaissance, and the vision plan will help guide us into a future of sustainable growth," said Fred Lazarus, president of the Maryland Institute College of Art and chairman of the Central Baltimore Partnership.

The plan proposes creating four zones to anchor the revitalization effort: Charles Gateway/Penn Station, Charles and North Corners, Asia Town, and the Creative/Design Zone.

Some elements could start in the next several months. They include:

* Demolition of the former Goldbloom's clothing store building at the northwest corner of Charles Street and North Avenue to make way for new development. The building, also known as the former Chateau Hotel, has been damaged by fire and is now controlled by the city, which is expected to bring in a demolition contractor before winter.

* Issuance by the city of a request for proposals to redevelop the former Parkway Theater at 3-5 W. North Ave. and two adjacent buildings. The 1915 theater, designed by Oliver B. Wight, could be a cabaret and venue for films, live music and theatrical performances, but it needs an expanded lobby and improved backstage facilities.

* An engineering and feasibility study for the proposed expansion of the train station on the surface lot just north of it. Possible elements include an underground "robotic garage" for several hundred cars, a hotel and conference center, a shopping arcade, and a park and band shell for outdoor concerts.

The city is seeking about $1 million in federal transportation funds for the engineering and feasibility study. The entire project, inspired by the redevelopment of Union Station in Washington and other Amtrak stations in the Northeast, could cost $100 million or more.

* Redevelopment of the 1928 North Avenue Market by its current owners to contain an arts-focused mix of shops, eateries and offices.

* Use of the former bank building and surrounding property at the northeast corner of Charles Street and North Avenue as a community meeting place and site for street fairs and other outdoor events. The owner has offered to make the property available to the community on a short- term basis, McNeely said.

Later phases of the plan call for projects that will take longer to complete, including:

* Asia Town, a retail, cultural and residential district along 20th Street at Charles Street, with Washington businessman Tony Cheng as the developer.

* A design district where architects, planners, artists and others could have offices, showrooms, galleries and meeting space.

MICA, Morgan State University and University of Maryland officials, among others, have been talking about creating a shared center for design students working on urban projects. That facility could then be a magnet for a larger district serving design professionals, artists and others.

* High-density housing, including a "live-work-study tower" near the northeast corner of North Avenue and Howard Street, and additional towers south of North Avenue and east of Howard Street. The buildings would serve students and professionals.

* Creation of a "Falls Hill Park" along the Jones Falls Valley, linked to the district by trails and paths, and other green spaces.

The plan was developed by a design team led by BTA+ of Cambridge, Mass., the successor to firms that designed Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston, Harborplace in Baltimore, South Street Seaport in New York and other festival markets.

The city, property owners, University of Baltimore, MICA and the Goldseker Foundation raised more than $150,000 to fund the plan.

SHORT-TERM PLANS

* Demolition of the former Chateau Hotel

* Request for redevelopment proposals for the former Parkway Theater

* Planning for a new retail and hotel addition to Penn Station

Long term plans:

* Development of an Asia Town near the intersection of Charles and 20th streets

* Establishment of a design district for architects and students

* Creation of a park along the Jones Falls

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