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City officials are planning renovations to the area outside of Penn Station, as well as inside the station.
City officials are planning to revitalize the area in front of Baltimore Penn Station. The planned development is led by the City government in conjunction with the Central Baltimore Partnership (CBP), a community development nonprofit. It will include the creation of a student transportation hub, art installations and new green spaces. The development will take place toward the end of 2018.
This proposal follows other efforts to create a more pedestrian-friendly station, such as providing free wifi and additional seating. Amtrak is also renovating the building to include more retail and office spaces.
Marianne Navarro, the anchor institution coordinator in the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Alliances, works as a liaison between the City government and Baltimore universities. She spoke about the decision to revitalize the area around Penn Station.
“We aligned the city agencies around — and this was a priority for the Mayor — the universities’ priorities for quality of life and revitalization of the neighborhoods around the campuses,” Navarro said.
She went on to explain that because universities have a large spending budget and are the city’s largest employer, they are in a unique position to support small businesses and improve quality of life in the areas around their campuses.
Navarro emphasized Penn Station’s importance in the city due to its central location.
“Penn Station is such a landmark and it’s such a important site in the city for connecting travelers, connecting employment opportunities, connecting Baltimore City to other sites,” she said.
Jack Danna, the director for commercial revitalization for CBP, spoke about how University of Baltimore (UB) students, in particular, would benefit from the proposed changes because of UB’s proximity to the station.
“So the thinking was we could create a pedestrian plaza that coordinated transit stops but also added some green space and some
installation of curated art,” Danna said. “It would begin to lay the foundation for [an] enhanced plaza for everyone.”
The project also includes the creation of a transportation hub for Baltimore universities at Penn Station.
This would be a designated area for university transportation entities, as well as city-run buses. Danna discussed the potential benefits of the creation of a hub, some of which include encouraging student interactions.
“The big dividend to the students is they won’t have to stand anymore. There will be some sense of a place to sit and relax, but also to have a coordinated one-stop for all the university shuttles, which will make it much more systematic to use the Station,” he said
According to Danna, UB, the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) and Hopkins have all been very supportive of the project.
Salem Reiner, the director of Community Affairs at Hopkins, stated in an email to The News-Letter that, though the University has not contributed funding to the project, he works with CBP in order to represent the interests of local stakeholders.
“The project has a lot of positive community-strengthening potential for the nearby stakeholders including regarding transit-oriented development, improving mass transit, increasing employment and local business opportunities, adding new retail and dining options, providing new residential offerings,” Reiner wrote.
Other aspects of the project include creating a parklet next to the Station by closing two of the four lanes of traffic on Charles Street.
Danna explained that not only would this create a green space, but it would also slow traffic down and make the area around the train station more pedestrian-friendly.
“It’s a hostile urban environment due to the focus on the automobiles, as opposed to people who live there,” Danna said.
Beyond making the area more pedestrian-friendly, Danna spoke about additional benefits of having a parklet in the area.
“If you can encourage people to lounge more... you’re going to create a safer environment. You’re going to have more eyes and ears on the street, but most importantly you’re going to encourage people to shop.” Danna said.
Navarro emphasized that as the City moves forward with the project, she will continue to receive input from both community members and stakeholders in Baltimore.
“Public input process is just beginning, but I’m sure that university partners in that area are very much engaged and want to be a part of the process of redeveloping that site,” Navarro said. “It’s a very strategic location in the City. “