Monday, June 13, 2016

Staying the course; The KcKeldin fountain folly continues

According to an article in the BBJ, the fact that the McKeldin Fountain had been successfully integrated into Light City Baltimore and that it is just this very minute happily cascading water over its concrete cliffs doesn't mean that the Downtown Partnership or the businesses funding its removal had an epiphany.
McKeldin Fountain this afternoon

Instead, they are still full bore on their path towards demolition, no matter that there is no completed or accepted design for what would replace the fountain, let alone a resolution on the question if the original idea of closing the 5 traffic lanes diverting traffic from light to Calvert Street could be eliminated and the McKeldin Plaza successfully hooked to the HarborPlace territory. Needless to say, cost or funding for the complete project isn't available either.

As Morgan Professor and architect Fred Scharmen wrote in a letter to the City Council budget committee:
City of Baltimore Council Bill 16-0663, an Ordinance of Estimates for the Fiscal Year ending June 30, 2017... includes a line item, 607-001, appropriating $500,000 to the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore for work at McKeldin Plaza.
These funds will be used by Downtown Partnership to further efforts to remove the historic and architecturally significant Fountain at McKeldin Plaza. The effort to remove and replace this landmark has not been approved by the Baltimore City Planning Department’s Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel, which has oversight over actions that affect architecture in Baltimore, it has not been approved by the Baltimore Public Art Commission, which has authority over Baltimore’s collection of public art, including the Fountain, it has not been approved by the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, the organization charged with overseeing assets at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. 
This effort is part of a masterplan endorsed by Downtown Partnership, that has not been adopted by the City Planning Department. This is being advanced in order to make changes to the downtown traffic pattern that have not been approved by the Baltimore City Department of Transportation. There are no funds allocated for the traffic reorientation, there are no funds allocated for the masterplan as a whole, and there are no funds allocated for the replacement of the Fountain, which, if it were to be removed, would leave behind a hole in the city fabric right at the entrance to Baltimore’s heart. This is not the highest and best use of City time, energy, and money.
The new zoning code prohibits the demolition of buildings before a replacement is designed, approved and funded. It isn't clear why that logic shouldn't apply here, too. What could possibly be worse than a half-baked underfunded provisional open space? Those who contend that even such a provisional condition would be better than the current fountain have either "I hate concrete" blinders on or a narrow private business interest.

The current fountain has the heft and scale to holds its own in a sea of traffic. The cascading water provides a sound that neutralizes the traffic noise to some extent; the steps, bridges and structures make it a walkable big sculpture and offer many surprise views,  The illumination at Light City Baltimore showed how easy it would be to spruce the fountain up, especially at night. No doubt, a better design is possible, except it hasn't see the light of day, yet. McKeldin Fountain in its current form is an important public space and its disposition should not be left to private entities, no matter how laudable many initiatives of DPoB are or have been.

That the fountain leaks or is often not turned on are not good reasons for demolition but lame excuses for poor maintenance and upkeep. Spending missions on the demolition of this original  artifact of the important Inner Harbor renewal always was and remains another folly in the long line of demolition follies this city has committed before. Except, this one could still be prevented.

All that is needed is that the City Council withholds the City funds allocated in the proposed coming budget, a budget that the council threatened already not to pass because of the lack of recreation money. It could be one of the bold moves that this outgoing council could still engage in.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA