Rash Field, the park space on the south shore of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, will be revamped to accommodate a wider range of activities for area residents and visitors, under a $5 million plan unveiled Tuesday night.
Designers working with the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore outlined plans to divide the waterfront park into half a dozen distinct areas for a variety of uses, from outdoor “reading rooms” to a “play lab” for kids to beach volleyball courts.
Richard Jones, president of Mahan Rykiel Associates, the design firm hired to create the new plan, said Rash Field over the years has become essentially a “single use park,” best known as a place for beach volleyball.
He said the new plan keeps the same number of volleyball courts – seven – while providing areas for many other activities.
“For a park of this size, we felt that it ought to offer more uses, more variety, more experiences,” Jones told approximately 75 people who gathered at the Maryland Science Center to learn about the proposed changes.
“We heard from a broad range of people who all want a piece of the park,” said Mahan Rykiel research director Isaac Hametz. “The question for us was: How do you create the best park for the greatest number of people? That was our goal all along.”
Tuesday’s presentation marked the culmination of months of planning for the area between the science center and the Rusty Scupper restaurant, including a series of meetings between the design team and area residents and users of the park.
The designers said they will be refining their plans based on comments they receive, but the design shown last night is in a close-to-final stage. They talked about a few ideas that didn’t make it into the latest version, including zip lines from the top of Federal Hill, but they didn’t show alternatives.
As outlined last night and on the Rash Field website, key elements of the plan include:
The Overlook and Wall: An entry plaza for the park from Key Highway, with a 60-foot by 140-foot open air pavilion, a climbing wall and a lookout point providing an overview of other areas in the park. This is also the recommended site for a relocated Pride of Baltimore memorial.
Play Lab & Café: An area close to the waterfront promenade and the science center, providing “kinetic play opportunities” that are both fun and educational.
The Sand Box: A central area with seven volleyball courts in a “stacked” configuration, with four in one row and three in the other.
The Lawn: A highly-flexible green space that will accommodate many different uses, from sports events to the annual book festival. The dimensions are 300 feet by 160 to 180 feet, making it large enough for junior league soccer.
The Stitch: An area between the Sand Box and the Lawn.
The Game Allee: Three rows of trees that will provide shade for the park and areas along the waterfront promenade for games such as chess and ping pong. “We think this will be a highlight” of the new Rash Field, Jones said.
Reading rooms: Sheltered areas for relatively quiet activities on the south side of the park, along Key Highway.
Bleachers: A seating area overlooking the volleyball courts.
The Garden: A landscaped area on the east side of the park that will double as a storm water management zone.
In a question and answer session after the presentation, a number of volleyball players asked if the designers could provide more volleyball courts. They said the current courts are always busy and Rash Field could draw even more volleyball players if there were additional courts.
“Can we please have a few more courts?” asked a volleyball player named Grant. “We know …we’re asking for a lot of real estate in the Inner Harbor.”
“We’re super-thrilled that volleyball is there,” said player Arlene Alfano. But even one more court “would help solve a lot of issues.”
Jones said the number of courts was determined from meetings with the volleyball players’ representatives and other stakeholders. He said the design team agreed not to reduce the number of courts, and the plan reflects that, but the designers also wanted to provide areas for other activities.
Jones said he understands that the Lawn looks on paper like a lot of land that could be given over to more volleyball courts, but it’s actually a multi-purpose space that will get heavy use. He said one of the challenges of the design effort was striking a balance between accommodating current uses and providing space to encourage additional uses.
Laurie Schwartz, president of the Waterfront Partnership, noted that the plan is “quite an evolution” from the Inner Harbor 2.0 master plan for Rash Field, which didn’t include any space for volleyball when it was unveiled several years ago.
The current timetable for the project calls for design development and construction documentation work to continue until mid-2017, with construction starting in the second half of 2017 and ending by the end of 2018.
Schwartz said the city has budgeted $4.5 million for Rash Field improvements in the next fiscal year, $500,000 in the following year, and another $4 million in outlying years. She said she feels confident that the project will move ahead, no matter who gets elected mayor in the citywide elections.
Given the strong interest in improving Rash Field from many different groups, she said, “I think it would be very difficult for a new mayor to reverse that.”
She said the Waterfront Partnership has been talking with the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks about maintaining Rash Field after the improvements are complete. “I’m confident that we’ll be able to maintain it to a level we’re all proud of,” she said.