Tonight, at its annual meeting, the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC) will announce ambitious plans to transform downtown Baltimore, including a new 18,500 arena and 500-room hotel at the corner of Conway and Charles Streets (currently site of the Sheraton Hotel) (top left), a massive expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center, which will double its size and connect it to the new arena, and a new waterfront park at the site of Rash Field—to possibly include a footbridge transversing the harbor, from Rash Field to Pier 5, creating a 1.5-mile "Harbor Loop."
This morning, at a press conference in the 17th floor conference room of GBC's Calvert Street offices overlooking the harbor, CEO Donald Fry previewed the plans for the developments, designed by local architecture firm Ayers/Saint/Gross, saying that Baltimore's infrastructure needed updating. "The Inner Harbor has been a tremendous outlet for our city for 30 years, but it's a little worn... 1st Mariner Arena is 50 years old," he said. "What we're planning would really be unique in the United States, and maybe the world."
The expanded Baltimore Convention Center would be about 760,000 square feet, raising it to the size of some of the country's largest. In addition, it's connection to the arena and four levels, Fry said, give it a unique edge over other convention centers in the region and allow multiple concurrent conventions, drastically increasing local economic activity and, in particular, hotel bookings.
1st Mariner CEO and Baltimore Blast owner Ed Hale, who also spoke at the press conference, said he was relieved that the idea of rebuilding the arena on its current site had been scrapped since, he says, that would have meant Baltimore would have gone "dark" for 3 to 5 years, without an arena to host concerts and sporting events. In response to a question, Fry said that luring an NBA or NHL franchise was not a motivation for the new arena, but Hale suggested that he frequently gets calls from teams in other cities—he mentioned the New Jersey Nets—who have called over the years, inquiring about the particulars of 1st Mariner Arena in looking into a move to Baltimore.
"Every owner knows we have a great fan base," he said in an exclusive interview after the press conference. "If we had a bigger arena, they would have come. If we build this, they can't help but come and look at Baltimore."
The total cost for the arena, expanded convention center, and hotel is expected to be $900 million, with $500 million in private funding in connection with Willard Hackerman, who owns the land at the site, and $400 million to be raised from the city and state.
Fry and the architects from ASG presented three possible plans for Rash Field and said they would post the three proposals on the GBC website and allow Baltimoreans to vote on which they preferred. All of the proposals integrated a large green space, which could be used as a concert venue or lacrosse/soccer playing field, along with beach volleyball and basketball courts, a children's play area, public art sculptures, as well as a ramped pathway that allows pedestrians to walk from the harbor, past the Science Center, through Rash Field, and then over Key Highway into Federal Hill, with access to the Visionary Art Museum and Federal Hill Park. There are also plans for a nightly water and light show at the harbor. The most ambitious proposal includes an additional walkway that goes from Rash Field over the harbor to Pier 5. It would have the capacity to open and close at regular intervals to allow large ships in to the Inner Harbor.
"We believe this is the next generation of the Inner Harbor experience," said Fry. "It's time to take the Inner Harbor to the next level for future generations."