As the former chair of the Maryland Economic Development Corp. under Gov. Martin O’Malley, I couldn’t be more excited about the vision that John Angelos has for areas around Oriole Park at Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium.
Visionary developer James Rouse was quick to remind us that you can’t create places with parking lots. Instead of those stadium-area parking lots, we need a place connected to our Inner Harbor that can entertain thousands of people, whether they come for games, concerts or conventions. We need a place where tens of thousands of people can gather and be entertained for extended periods. Think about revenue and lots of it.
We were smart to locate our largest entertainment venues along the Russell Street Corridor. Let’s take stock: To the south, we have Horseshoe Casino, Top Golf, the Paramount Theater, M&T Bank Stadium and one of the crown jewels of baseball with Oriole Park. To the north, we have CFG Bank Arena, Everyman Theatre, the Hippodrome Theatre, Arena Players, Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and the Lyric Opera House. All these downtown attractions are proximate to the 95, 395 and 295 interstates, two Light Rail stops and the MARC Camden Line, which reaches to Savage, Laurel Park, College Park and Union Station in D.C.
Thankfully, we have been promised 30 more years from Orioles ownership. So now is the time to make our move and go from parking lots and misplaced streets to revenue-producing venues and places for people to enjoy entertainment. Traveling the country this past summer chasing Dead and Co., I saw firsthand how cities such as Chicago, San Francisco and Boston have redeveloped the areas around their ballparks. Easy in and easy out, they are not promoting cars or parking. They are promoting development, mass transit and income-producing real estate.
Here are a few thoughts about how the project could proceed: Fix Light Street and make it straight, while making land available to incorporate into the redevelopment of the Inner Harbor, McKeldin Park included. Turn Conway Street into a park that connects Harborplace to Camden Yards, with a bridge over Light Street and Charles Street. Shut down Sharp Street from the north and run the park all the way to I-395, where it reverts to the pedestrian walkways that exist today. That park automatically takes our convention business to another level.
Numerous options exist for all the parking lots surrounding the stadiums, which include turning them into parks and then elevating land above them for the desired development. Baltimore is home to some of the best architecture firms in the country. We will need more hotels, restaurants, bars, venues with stages, parkland and bike and walking trails that can connect it all.
I love the plan from Rebecca Hoffberger of the American Visionary Art Museum to replicate a cool ride like that found in Tivoli Gardens. We need a museum there, but the Baltimore Museum of Industry would be a better fit at another location. That property should be developed as an income-producing asset for the city. All of it needs to be connected by flourishing gardens and art from local artists. Bike and walking trails would allow visitors to move about the district with ease.
We should not be promoting driving cars to and from games. We should be pushing mass transit. I imagine walking down Ravens Walk just as I would stroll down Broadway in Nashville, without the cars. We also need to make the Light Rail work all the time. Maybe we will still save a lot for the die-hard tailgaters.
Let’s do this for ourselves, for our future and for our city’s future. We can create enough revenue to go around, and we can fashion public-private partnerships that directly benefit our local sports teams, allowing them to be more competitive and better revenue generators for the city. When the Ravens and Orioles win, everyone in Baltimore wins. I have all the confidence in the world that the right people are in place to make this happen. Those of us in Baltimore must want it, and work to achieve it, for our city.
Martin G. Knott is president of Advanced Indoor Resources and the former chair of the Maryland Economic Development Corp.