While the city reviews proposals to invigorate the Inner Harbor, the Greater Baltimore Committee unveiled a vision of its own, highlighted by a pedestrian bridge that would link the north and south shores, allowing visitors for the first time to walk a complete circle around the downtown waterfront.
Leaders of the business group also proposed light and water shows for the harbor, and three different ideas for turning Rash Field on the south shore into a world-class park.
The bridge would be built high enough above the water that most sailboats and water taxis could travel underneath. It would be designed with arms that could pivot open to let tall ships and other large vessels pass through.
People would be able to stand on the bridge and look west toward the city skyline or east toward the outer harbor — a perspective available now only aboard a vessel on the water. The bridge would complete a 1.5 mile loop.
Adam Gross, a partner of the architecture firm that proposed the bridge and other improvements, said the slender span would be a sculptural element that fills a need.
"When you walk around the Inner Harbor now, you run into a dead end," he said. "This will allow for a loop around the Inner Harbor and make a stronger connection" between the south shore and the burgeoning community of Harbor East.
See pictures of the proposed changes
Laurie Schwartz, executive director of the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, said the bridge would add "an element of beauty and grace to the harbor as well as something that's incredibly functional. I think it's spectacular."
The bridge is one of several ideas that the Greater Baltimore Committee proposed Wednesday as part of a new vision for adding life to the Inner Harbor three decades after the opening of Harborplace and the National Aquarium in Baltimore.
The committee also proposed shows that would project colors and images onto the walls of the buildings that frame the harbor and spew water in synchronized geysers, and three concepts for a waterfront park at Rash Field.
Designed by Ayers Saint Gross of Baltimore, the Rash Field plans call for different combinations of uses, including beach volleyball courts,a childrens' playground and public art installations. One concept includes a concert bandshell at the east end and a large green space in the center — Baltimore's answer to Chicago's Millennium Park.
GBC leaders said a year ago that they would be looking for ways to make the shoreline more attractive. They promised to share the results this year as a way of stimulating public discussion.
The plans were unveiled just as city officials are reviewing nine proposals for the Inner Harbor shoreline, including two "observation wheels," a 13-story observation tower, activities such as zip lines, swings, rope courses and an expansion of the current beach volleyball courts.
City officials are reviewing the proposals with the goal of deciding whether to accept any in time to have them in place for the 2012 tourist season.
Greater Baltimore Committee President Donald Fry said the ideas unveiled Wednesday weren't meant to supplant the nine proposals submitted to the city. He said the city had requested proposals for uses that might be in place for one to five years, while the committee has been looking for longterm projects that could take the Inner Harbor "to the next level" as an attraction for area residents and visitors.
Fry said the group asked Ayers Saint Gross to propose several scenarios for remaking Rash Field, which it believes can be the next big Inner Harbor attraction.
Several decades ago, city officials had plans for a large bridge that would carry vehicles across the mouth of the Inner Harbor, as part of a proposed interstate highway system connecting south and east Baltimore. The structure never materialized, after preservation groups and others defeated plans for highways running through south Baltimore and Fells Point.
More recently, footbridges have been constructed to connect some of the finger piers on the Inner Harbor's north shore.
The committee has not come up with a financing plan. Fry said the Rash Field makeovers could cost up to $10 million. He said the light and water shows also could cost millions of dollars and could be privately financed.
The committee plans to post details of the proposals on its website — gbc.org — to solicit reactions and encourage more discussion.