Preston Gardens, a historic but run-down park separating St. Paul Street from St. Paul Place in downtown Baltimore, will get a $6.75 million face-lift soon that will add green space to its upper level and restore its aging sandstone and brick wall.
The Downtown Partnership, city officials and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings announced the 18-month project Tuesday, though some preparatory work has been underway since June. They envision a more inviting public space for downtown Baltimore residents to eat lunch, play bocce and listen to live music.
The iconic park has become more like a traffic median over the decades, said Downtown Partnership officials.
"With the residents moving around, we needed to have a quality space," said Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership. "Ten years ago, 20 years ago, that was not the case for Preston Gardens."
The restoration will include turning a lane of traffic on St. Paul Place that runs above the park into green space. The park's iconic wall has been under structural stress from carrying the weight of traffic, and moving cars farther away from it will help it last longer, officials said. The wall and its sweeping staircases will be cleaned, repointed and shored up under the restoration plan.
"What makes Baltimore special is our unique natural places, so I'm excited about what we have been able to do," Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said. "We are always looking for innovative ways to create and preserve green spaces within our city."
The park was built around 1920.
"It's likely that there hasn't been this significant an investment in Preston Gardens since it was built," Fowler said.
Still, the Downtown Partnership recently took over maintenance of the park, ripping up shrubs, putting in lights and fixing the long-dry fountains. Nearby, the partnership also spent $50,000 to add changing colored LED lights to an underpass on St. Paul Street near Mercy Medical Center. When the restoration is complete, the organization hopes to continue improving the area, including adding a sidewalk to the lower portion of the park.
Funding for the project came from the Downtown Partnership, the federal and state governments, Mercy Medical Center and the city, which also will replace a water main on St. Paul Place during construction.