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Q&A: Re-Envisioning Rash Field

JONATHAN CECI OF AYERS SAINT GROSS
JONATHAN CECI OF AYERS SAINT GROSS
It's a place where you'll often find people playing "beach" volleyball.

But someday, it could also hold performances, sculptures and public gardens.

Those are some of the ideas Baltimore architectural firm Ayers Saint Gross has for revamping the stretch between Federal Hill and the Inner Harbor so Rash Field is used more by residents and tourists. The designs build upon the city's goal of making the harbor swimmable and fishable by 2020 and received an award from the American Society of Landscape Architects' Maryland and Potomac chapters. 

Ayers Saint Gross devised the plans in response to the Greater Baltimore Committee challenge to re-envision Rash Field. It's one of a series of challenges to rejuvenate different areas of downtown Baltimore, including plans for a new arena and an expansion of the convention center.

While these projects have received some funding to move forward, a redesign of Rash Field is still in the preliminary phases, says Jonathan Ceci, director of the landscape architecture studio of Ayers Saint Gross. 

A redesign could cost tens of millions of dollars, and it's not likely to happen in the current economic climate, he says. But hopefully it will someday. 

Ceci chatted with Bmore about the firm's vision for Rash Field. 

How would you describe Rash Field?

It’s at the end of Federal Hill next to the Maryland Science Center. It’s roughly 10 acres in size, including the parking garage [land] in front of Rusty Scupper restaurant.  It’s not widely used -- mainly for volleyball -- because there are a number of impediments to foot traffic from Federal Hill to the site, the main one being Key Highway.

What was the goal of the design challenge?

The Baltimore City-owned property has been designated greenspace. The intent was not to build on it but to look at ways to make it more actively used by residents, and to lure tourists. Right now, Rash Field is an underutilized site in prime urban water real estate that doesn’t offer enough to draw people from the Inner Harbor.

What was the biggest obstacle?

The site is basically an island cut off from the rest of the Inner Harbor. Besides Key Highway [on one side], you’ve got the water [on the other side] and a lack of parking garages. The question was, how do you make it a magnet for urban activity?

Tell us about your three designs.

They are similar in that each has an array of uses like gardens, children’s play areas and event/performance spaces.  They’re not radical or lavish; they conform to urban design. I didn’t reconfigure the shoreline, but footbridges and a ramp are part of the designs. But they are different enough to generate interest.

Moreover, the city has a goal to be more sustainable by 2020. The design concepts follow through on the city’s Healthy Harbor Initiative, to make the Inner Harbor water swimmable and fishable by 2020, because each includes a storm water management portion.

What are the three design concepts?

The first design, called Harbor Loop, has a pedestrian bridge across the Inner Harbor to Pier 5. The bridge opens to allow large ships to pass into the Inner Harbor. The bridge completes a circular 1.5-mile Inner Harbor Walk.

This design provides a “front stoop” for residents of Federal Hill with a platform for viewing activities like festivals and concerts in a large central open area. Near the Maryland Science Center is a children’s garden and play area. A new small diagonal bridge connects west to the National Aquarium and the Inner Harbor, or west to Pier Six and Harbor East.

The second design includes the Federal Hill Connector. It replaces the garage in front of the Rusty Scupper with an underground garage that is covered for recreation like volleyball and basketball and with gardens of seasonal plants. This design also includes a bridge across Key Highway to Federal Hill and the Visionary Arts Museum.

The third design, called Garden Terrace, is much more formal than the other two. Solar panels are placed on the surface parking lot on the southwest corner of the site although we didn’t figure the wattage. A large rectangular green that can be used for performances is bordered by trees. There are series of sports courts, for volleyball and basketball, children's gardens and sculpture for the public to enjoy.

The designs were put on the GBC’s Web site and the public voted. The results? 

The first design, Harbor Loop, was the overwhelming favorite, with 60 percent of the vote. The second design got 26.7 percent and the third, Garden Terrace, got 12.3 percent.

What happens now?

The challenge was intended to generate interest and, by having a concrete plan, get funding. I didn’t cost out the designs but typically, urban landscapes run in the neighborhood of $35 to $65 per square foot, including bridges and ramps. At 10 acres, Rash Field is 450,000 square feet. We’re talking in the millions, probably tens of millions of dollars, but it’s not as expensive as a new building or parking garage.

There are early discussions about where we can cobble together the money – that’s the goal – whether state, city, federal, maybe even private. 
 

Barbara Pash is a Pikesville resident and Bmore Media's Innovation and Jobs News Editor. She can be reached at innovationnews@bmoremedia.com

PHOTOS:

Jonathan Ceci, director of the landscape archecture studio of Ayers Saint Gross / Photo by Steve Ruark

Renderings courtesy of Ayers Saint Gross

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