With approval of Rash Field agreement, Waterfront Partnership says work on redesigned park can start this winter

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Rendering from June 6 UDAAP presentation, by Mahan Rykiel Associates

A waterfront transformation years in the making is finally close to breaking ground, with the approval of a management agreement today allowing the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore to oversee construction of a new Rash Field.

Baltimore’s spending panel, made up of the mayor, council president, comptroller, city solicitor and public works director, approved the agreement this morning. The deal also commits the city to providing $9.5 million in funds for the project, along with $4 million from state bonds and $2 million pledged from private donors, for the first phase of a project that the nonprofit says will cost $16.8 million to build out.

The Waterfront Partnership is tasked with filling the gap with additional fundraising.

This first phase of the overhaul plots a brand new pavilion with an outdoor cafe, rain gardens and a roof deck, as well as a children’s nature park, skatepark, kinetic playground and new green lawn in the park off of Key Highway.

The design, put together with years of community feedback and planning by Mahan Rykiel, was approved last June by Baltimore’s Urban Design and Architecture Advisory Panel. It was among 13 design proposals considered for the project.

Whiting-Turner is serving as the general contractor and construction manager.

While building is still months away–Waterfront Partnership president Laurie Schwartz told Baltimore Fishbowl she expects crews to break ground in January 2020, and the build-out to take 12 to 14 months–Schwartz said the sign-off on the management agreement makes today a “big day for Baltimore residents.”

She noted the existing Rash Field isn’t quite unused, with beach volleyball being the primary attraction there in the right weather, but said the park at the foot of Federal Hill “has been an underutilized space forever.”

“We’re grateful and so pleased to see beach volleyball happening there, but there’s so much more that we all know can happen. It’s going to become a great destination for city residents as well as tourists.”

According to The Cultural Landscape Foundation, Rash Field as we currently know it was designed by RTKL Associates and opened in 1976. It’s served as a host site for large events like fairs and festivals, and includes bleachers, the Kaufman Pavilion and, until 2017, its staple carousel. Those areas would all be demolished under the latest plans.

The push to re-do the park goes back at least six years, when the Waterfront Partnership published its Inner Harbor 2.0 plan calling for “a vital, 24/7 public space for the shared enjoyment of tourists and residents,” “spaces to celebrate art, science, nature, play, and performance,” and other amenities “creating a vantage point for viewing maritime activity.”

The Inner Harbor 2.0 plan covered many other elements, but Schwartz said Rash Field was always “the highest priority.”

Rendering from June 6 UDAAP presentation, by Mahan Rykiel Associates

In a statement today, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young pointed to positive prospects for engaging more kids and families, saying “providing positive activities for children and youth has proven to be an effective crime fighting tool and I’m so glad we’re providing this recreation and park space at the Inner Harbor.”

Tensions between police and teens in the Inner Harbor boiled over this spring, reigniting conversations about youth behavior in the public space. On Memorial Day weekend in May, officers arrested six teens fighting while hundreds of young people gathered there–largely peaceably, some council members noted. Some business leaders and officials, Young included, calling their behavior “unacceptable” and voiced concerns about it driving away tourism and business.

There’s another phase planned for Rash Field after this, calling for the return of beach volleyball courts–“updated and reorganized,” a release said–plus an open lawn, soccer fields, outdoor workout equipment, jogging paths, a bird and butterfly lab, and a Pride memorial. That will come with a new round of fundraising.

Schwartz spoke to a broader hopeful vision for the Inner Harbor, which has struggled commercially since its heyday, particularly with the decline of Harborplace in the last several years. The shopping plaza was recently placed under receivership by a city circuit court judge after it floundered for years under former owner Ashkenazy Acquisitions Corp., based in New York.

Asked if a rejuvenated Rash Field could spur a commercial revival nearby, she said “it can only help.” She floated the possibility that the park improvements, coupled with the arrival of new residents at the nearly 400-unit luxury high-rise 414 Light Street, could help attract new investment for commercial spaces.

“It’s just gonna be a tremendous city resource,” she said of Rash Field. “And we hope it’ll fuel additional positive activities in the harbor.”

Ethan McLeod
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