Design plan for Mechanic faulted

The Baltimore Sun

The proposed design for a redeveloped Morris A. Mechanic Theatre in downtown Baltimore includes an inviting outdoor plaza and preserves much of the shuttered theater's architectural significance, but it falls short in its concept for a new 32-story hotel and residential tower, members of a city design panel said yesterday.

Members of the Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel weighed in on the design proposed by Washington architect Shalom Baranes for redevelopment of the theater at Baltimore and Charles streets, built in 1967 as the centerpiece of one of downtown's earliest urban renewal efforts.

The project, being developed by David S. Brown Enterprises and principals of Arrow Parking, reuses the shell of the theater for shops and incorporates a mostly glass tower with three levels of retail, a two-level health club, about 100 hotel rooms and about 231 residences.

Panel members criticized the placement of terra cotta on the exterior of the glass tower and said the use of large billboards in the retail space would give the appearance of a suburban shopping mall rather than an urban streetscape. Others said the new construction appeared too arbitrary, should have a stronger identity and should relate better to the theater, which was designed by architect John Johansen in the Brutalist style.

An earlier version of the project had a more dramatic, yet too complex, design, said Mario Schack, a panel member.

"This makes it look as though there are two separate, unrelated buildings," said panel member Stan Britt.

Baranes responded that the architects chose to give the retail portion a specific identity, separate from the tower and the former theater, which closed in 2004.

"I think there's an energy to this we were trying to capture that comes from the Johansen building, and you're suggesting we move away from that," Baranes said.

An attorney for the developers said yesterday that the team has no estimate on when construction might start. The attorney, Stanley Fine, said design work needs to be completed before the team can land a hotel operator and retail anchors, which architects said will likely include restaurants along the plaza.

The design must be approved by the city panel.

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