The makeover of Harborplace isn’t the only big building project that’s in the works for Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
While the proposed redevelopment of the Harborplace pavilions has received extensive press coverage in recent weeks, leaders of other Inner Harbor attractions say they’re also working on building projects that will transform their properties – and affect the experiences their visitors have.
Leaders of the National Aquarium, Maryland Science Center, Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, and Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture on Monday discussed their plans for future projects during a Transportation and Economic Opportunity Summit organized by the Greater Baltimore Committee.
Here are some of the projects they discussed:
National Aquarium: Harbor Wetland is the new name for the $14 million Waterfront Campus improvement project that the aquarium plans to carry out in the inlet between Inner Harbor Piers 3 and 4.
Designed by Ayers Saint Gross, Harbor Wetland will be a free outdoor exhibit that involves the creation of a network of floating manmade wetland “islands” installed with plants and grasses that attract and provide shelter for species native to the Inner Harbor. It will also be an educational resource, with 10,000 square feet of floating docks and “learning docks” between the piers and interpretive graphics all about wetland ecosystems.
Work on the project will begin in November with the installation of pilings between Piers 3 and 4 that will serve as the permanent infrastructure for the wetlands and walkways that will be put in place as the project progresses. Onlookers can expect to see the installation of floating docks and additional wetlands by spring. The project is set to open in June of 2024 and will be open whenever the aquarium is, 363 days a year.
“Harbor Wetland is a completely new idea: a habitat, exhibit and floating public park all in one. In a beautiful, accessible space, Baltimoreans and visitors alike will gain a new appreciation of the rich biodiversity of the Chesapeake Bay,” said National Aquarium President and CEO John Racanelli. “Within the important redevelopment underway all around the Inner Harbor, our Harbor Wetland space helps set the stage for both the economic and ecological success of downtown Baltimore in the years ahead.”
Racanelli said the aquarium’s leaders support the “Healthy Harbor” initiative of the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, and he believes the Harbor Wetland will be another way to create a healthier harbor.
“It creates habitat for the animals, and it creates an amenity for the people,” he said. “We think it can demonstrate both commercial and ecological success for the harbor.”
Maryland Science Center: Maryland Science Center President and CEO Mark Potter showed the audience a rendering from a study for “greening” of its campus at 601 Light Street. The rendering showed that much of the brick plaza leading to the Science Center could be replaced with plants that would soften the approach to the harbor-facing entrance of the building, which will turn 50 years old in 2026.
“Right now if you go to the science center property…we’re all about brick,” he said. “Brick, brick everywhere. It’s a pizza oven in the summertime and a refrigerator in the wintertime. So for our signature project [for the 50th anniversary], our gift to the Inner Harbor if you will, is this wonderful outdoor exhibit,” he said, showing a rendering of a reimagined plaza.
“I want to stress that this is not a park,” Potter continued. “This is an exhibit. Much like the inside of the science center, this will be experiential. This is not going to be a passive experience. You must participate…We’re going to ‘green’ the entire campus but concentrate on the harbor side. We will also have wetlands. Actually, they will be constructed wetlands. We’ll have water features as well as wind features, solar. We’ll have a path which talks about the history of science in Maryland and highlights Maryland scientists. An urban farm. Pollinator garden. We’ll put decals on the windows – long overdue for bird strikes. So this piece of real estate here will complete that whole harbor vision.”
According to Christopher Cropper, Senior Director of Marketing and Strategy at the science center, the institution is in the quiet phase of a fundraising campaign that will determine the full nature of the project. He said Potter showed the rendering on Monday to give a hint of what is in the early planning stages.
“The Science Center is committed to sustainability,” Cropper said in an email message. “Part of that commitment will be the ‘greening’ of our entire campus. We were excited to share an early concept of what that greening might look like at yesterday’s event.”
Mahan Rykiel Associates is the landscape architecture firm that has developed the preliminary studies and would be the landscape architect for the project if the science center’s fundraising efforts are successful, Cropper said. The science center is hoping to officially announce the project in the late spring of 2024, he added.
Rash Field/Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore: Waterfront Partnership President Laurie Schwartz provided an update on plans for Phase 2 of Rash Field Park, the waterfront park at 201 Key Highway, between the Maryland Science Center and the Rusty Scupper restaurant.
The 2.5-acre first phase opened in November of 2021 after a $16.8 million renovation led by the Waterfront Partnership, with features designed primarily for children and families. They included an adventure park, a nature park, a skate park, a shade lawn and a pavilion with a green-roof overlook that offers sweeping views of the harbor.
The Waterfront Partnership is now finalizing designs and raising funds for the second phase, which will be focused on recreation for youths, including a field for soccer and other sports; a relocated area for beach volleyball; a “nature garden area,” a beach and other features. The estimated cost is $15 million, and the timeline for construction and opening will depend on fundraising, planners say.
Mahan Rykiel Associates designed both phases. On a typical day, Schwartz said, Phase 1 of Rash Field Park draws an average of 3,000 people, and on the busiest day it drew 6,000. “It’s just remarkable to see all the families coming to the harbor,” she said. “We see people from zip codes all across the city…The racial makeup of people using the park is a mirror of the city. It’s just so heartening to see a place where people are comfortable coming from all over the city, mixing, and kids playing with each other, families socializing while their kids are playing.”
Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture: Museum President and Executive Director Terri Lee Freeman said the museum will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2025. “We will probably take that time to highlight a little bit about the building of the building and a little bit more about Reginald F. Lewis,” the African American businessman for whom the museum is named, she said.
An even bigger celebration, Freeman said, will be in 2030, when the museum marks its 25th anniversary. For that anniversary, she said, “we hope to open a…newly renovated history exhibit” on its third floor. The current exhibit, she said, “has been in its current form since 2005, and we want to include to more interactive opportunities, bring us up to date. A whole lot of history has occurred over this time that we have been built and we want people to be able to incorporate themselves in the museum, so we’re really excited about that.”
To demonstrate what the new history exhibit might look like, she said, the museum will be opening a new installation within its permanent exhibition in August of 2024 on Maryland’s lynching history. “You will have an opportunity to see what a newer installation can look like, and how interactive it can be, even on a difficult topic like that,” she said.
Freeman said she’s also exploring plans to expand the museum.
“As we look at 2030, we’re not just thinking about the renovation of the permanent history museum,” she said. “We’re talking about maybe building a bigger museum, maybe adding some floors. The museum currently is a sought-after venue to host events and we’re just running out of space to be able to host all the events. So we’re actually thinking about, do we have the ability to build up? And additionally, we need more storage for the collection that we have. We have a pretty large collection.”
Freeman said she hopes planners will find ways to improve traffic conditions at President and Pratt streets and make it easier for pedestrians to cross those streets to get to and from the Lewis museum.
“For us, being on the corner of President and Pratt, just trying to get across that street to get to the museum can be perilous to say the least,” she said.