Another public fountain in Baltimore has joined the endangered list.
First, the McKeldin Fountain at Pratt and Light streets was threatened with demolition, by downtown business interests who consider it an eyesore and want it taken down. Now a second downtown fountain, by the same designer, may disappear from its current location.
This time, it’s the France-Merrick Fountain, at the northwest corner of Pratt and Charles streets. It consists of a group of vertical boulders rising out of an eight-sided base that doubles as a shallow pool.
Dedicated in 1981, the fountain was a gift to the city from Robert Merrick, the Jacob and Annita France Foundation and the Equitable Trust Company. The location is a heavily trafficked intersection where downtown Baltimore meets the Inner Harbor. Carved in the base of the fountain are the names of Maryland’s 23 counties and the City of Baltimore. The designer was Thomas Todd of Wallace, McHarg, Roberts, and Todd, now WRT. He is the same man who designed the 1982 McKeldin Fountain at Pratt and Light streets.
The France-Merrick Fountain is a companion of sorts to the McKeldin Fountain, in that both were built as part of the new network of streets and walkways created within the Inner Harbor renewal area. More than utilitarian works of infrastructure, they were intended to be urban amenities that combine sculpture and flowing water to enhance the landscape. Like the McKeldin Fountain, the France-Merrick Fountain is listed in the city’s official inventory of public art and monuments, overseen by Baltimore’s Public Art Commission, and Todd is listed as the sculptor.
Both the McKeldin Fountain and the France-Merrick Fountain occupy city-owned land, but the France-Merrick Fountain is endangered for a different reason than the McKeldin Fountain. According to Darron Cooper, a project manager with the Baltimore Development Corp., the city has received an unsolicited proposal from an adjacent property owner who wants to acquire and redevelop a narrow strip of land along Pratt Street, between Charles and Hanover streets. The land in question is half an acre in size and includes the parcel occupied by the fountain.
The bidder is an affiliate of Carlyle Development Group, the entity that recently acquired the Bank of America Center office and retail complex at 100 South Charles Street. Specific details of the proposal have not been made public, but city planners told the Planning Commission recently that the developer wants to use the strip of land to build commercial space fronting on Pratt Street, in the same way that the owner of the office building in the 400 block of East Pratt Street added a Shake Shack and other retail and office space there.
Before city officials can consider the proposal, they have to know whether the land can be sold. Earlier this year, legislation was introduced in City Council that would authorize the sale of the Pratt Street parcel. The Planning Commission held a hearing on the bill in May and approved the legislation. On June 30, it will be considered by the council’s Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee. If the bill is approved by the full council, the city will be able to sell the land. The BDC would then seek competing bids and then decide whether to accept one.
During the planning commission meeting, the idea of selling the land drew criticism from Michael Pugh, a Baltimore designer, and educator who also opposes the McKeldin Fountain demolition. Pugh said the stretch of land along Pratt Street is a public park, and France-Merrick Fountain is a valuable asset. He said he didn’t think the city should be selling off public parkland.
“We’re not selling a used car lot,” he said. “We’re selling a park…It was put there for a reason. It was put there as public space…I think we can do better as a city.”
During the hearing, planners disclosed that the city is considering the possibility of moving the fountain to another location, rather than scrapping it entirely. One idea is to move the fountain a block west, onto a city-owned parcel at the northwest corner of Charles and Hanover streets, next to the Garmatz Federal Courthouse.
According to letters on file with the planning department, Carlyle has developed a plan for moving the fountain and would bear the cost, if it is economically feasible. The idea has support from judges who work in the Garmatz building and also from the France-Merrick Foundation.
“We are genuinely excited to see the plans for the Property come to fruition and see the fountain in its new home,” France-Merrick Foundation president Wally Pinkard wrote to Carlyle director Thomas Fear. ”We all agree the France-Merrick Fountain would be a welcome addition to the courthouse block,” said Chief Judge Catherine Blake.
City planners say redeveloping the land along Pratt Street would add to the city’s tax revenues while still providing a pedestrian-friendly public space. They say moving the fountain could be required as a condition of any land sale. As drafted, however, the City Council bill, 16-0650, does not mention relocating the fountain. The hearing on the proposal to sell the land has been scheduled for 10:05 a.m. in the City Council chambers in City Hall.
Design competition proposed for McKeldin Fountain site
After spending more than a year reviewing proposals for a possible replacement for the McKeldin Fountain, the city is now considering holding a design competition to determine what should take its place. The planning department would take the lead in organizing the competition. David Rubin, a member of Baltimore’s Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel, has been mentioned as a possible competition advisor. The Downtown Partnership of Baltimore wants to take the fountain down by the end of this year, but opponents argue it shouldn’t be demolished until the city has approved a design for the replacement and funds are available to pay for it.
A new home for Hilgartner Natural Stone Co.
When developers assembled land for the Stadium Square project in South Baltimore, they displaced one of the oldest businesses in the city, the Hilgartner Natural Stone Company, founded in 1863.
Well-known as a supplier of marble, granite and other materials for residential and commercial construction projects, and located at 101 W. Cross Street, the company opted to stay in the city and worked with the Baltimore Development Corp. to find a new home. On June 29, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and BDC president and CEO William Cole will join company president Tom Doyle for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at its new facility at 2220 Severn Street near Westport. By relocating within the city limits, Hilgartner kept about a dozen jobs in Baltimore.
“I’m thrilled that Hilgartner is staying in Baltimore,” said BDC President and CEO William Cole. “Retaining existing companies is a key component of BDC’s mission, and we look forward to continuing to work with Hilgartner for years to come.”
Odell’s nightclub has a buyer
Jubilee Baltimore and developer Samuel Polakoff have a new project in Baltimore’s Station North Arts and Entertainment District. Jubilee and Polakoff’s Property Consulting Inc. have negotiated a contract to purchase the former Odell’s nightclub at 19-21 East North Avenue, according to Jubilee president Charles Duff.
The three-story, 13,650 square foot building was scheduled to be sold at a multi-property auction this month but was taken out of the sale at the last minute. The auction sale was canceled because Jubilee and Polakoff got the building under contract before the date of the auction.
Duff said he is not sure exactly how the building will be developed but that he and Polakoff intend the preserve the Tudor-style exterior, which dates from 1909. He said they are working to select an architect and determine if the building is eligible for tax credits for historic preservation. Duff said the building was a repair shop with an upper level dancing academy before it became a restaurant and a nightclub. “It’s a great building,” he said.
National Aquarium hires Design Collective
Design Collective is the lead architect for a 50,000 square foot animal care and rescue center that the National Aquarium plans to build at 901 East Fayette Street in Jonestown to replace its current leased facility in Fells Point. The aquarium bought the property in December.
A detailed look at plans for Port Covington
Sagamore Development Company’s plans for Port Covington will be the subject of a panel presentation sponsored by 1000 Friends of Maryland on June 28 from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the City Garage, 101 West Dickman Street.
Presenters include: Marc Weller, president of Sagamore Development Company; Demian Costa, managing partner of Sagamore Ventures; Neil Jurgens, vice president, corporate real estate for Under Armour, and Alvin C. Hathaway Sr., senior pastor of Union Baptist Church. Tickets cost $40 per person and will include a tour of City Garage. More information is available from 1000 Friends of Maryland at 410-385-2910 or friendsofmd.org.
Saying farewell to Fort McHenry Ranger Vince Vaise
People who missed a chance to say farewell to longtime Fort McHenry Ranger Vince Vaise can do so during the Fort McHenry Crab Feast on July 9 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Vaise, the fort’s longtime chief of interpretation, recently took a job with National Capital Parks East in Washington, D. C., but will be back at the fort during the crab feast to greet well-wishers.
Vacant properties and demolition
Which vacant buildings in Baltimore should be torn down and which should be fixed up? City officials are holding a public meeting on that issue on June 29th from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Edmondson-Westside High School, 501 N. Athol Avenue.