February 24, 2016

Carroll Park: A golf course for Under Armour

Under Armour is making plans for virtually every major sport at its new Port Covington corporate campus - except golf. But to compete, Under Armour needs golf - the sport of maximum mental dexterity and optimum demographics, played by many of society's top achievers. Golf is the sport where power players bond while making multi-million dollar business deals. 

Inner city golf courses in dense old cities are rare, but there just happens to be one waiting for Under Armour less than two miles away from its new Port Covington home.
Carroll Park golf course with the gigantic Montgomery Park office building in the background.
The course needs some landscape screening from its industrial neighbor and its sand traps are more like mud puddles, but the potential is all there.

Yes, Baltimore has the Carroll Park municipal golf course, and it's waiting to share in Under Armour's urban renaissance. Its fantastic location is part of the city's most historic park, Carroll Park. It sits right next to the city's largest office building, the fully rehabbed 1.3 million square foot Montgomery Park. The setting does have a few urban interruptions and typical Baltimore squalor, but is mostly as bucolic and peaceful as one could imagine - something that could not be created from scratch for any amount of money.

Along with the even closer Westport neighborhood, which Under Armour's Kevin Plank has also bought into with its large waterfront property, the Carroll Park golf course is a key link to making the Port Covington development work for all of West Baltimore.

History of Carroll Park and it's golf course

The key to turning around the golf course's not-so stellar image is to create a strong linkage to the rest of Carroll Park and to southwest Baltimore as a whole, something which has never actually been done in the park's entire history spanning parts of four centuries.

In the 18th century, Carroll Park was the country estate of the Mount Clare mansion, Baltimore's oldest and most historic free-standing house, which still sits just across what is now Monroe Street from the golf course. Then in the early 19th century, America's first railroad was built along what became the north barrier of the estate and later the park. Subsequently, a through railroad connection was built right through the estate, which cut off what is now the golf course - a barrier which exists to this very day. The early 20th century Olmsted park plan called for building an underpass under this railroad track, but this was never done.

Finally in the 1920s, a large swath of the park was sold to Montgomery Ward to build its massive retail distribution facility and department store. The golf course was developed at about the same time, so it never had the park connection it needed.

The golf course suffered other major indignities. Blacks were long barred from playing there. Interstate 95 was built along the otherwise scenic Gwynns Falls valley and the golf course's Washington Boulevard entrance on its western flank. Just in the last several years, the city and state came up with a half-baked plan for a truck terminal along the railroad tracks which would have solidified the barrier and increased its disruption. Despite that plan having been killed, the Southwest Partnership is still promoting the construction of a large security wall in a futile and misguided attempt to further cut off the north side of the park from the adjacent struggling neighborhoods.

Unifying the golf course and the park

There is currently no legitimate way to get to the golf course from the main part of Carroll Park or the surrounding communities. The parkland has become an overgrown impenetrable jungle, allowed to persist because of the active freight railroad which prevents passage anyway.

The rail underpass in the hundred year old Olmsted park plan still needs to be built. This could be used to transform the adjacent park area off Monroe Street into the main entrance to the golf course and to create important linkages to the historic park, the urban communities and ultimately to Westport, Port Covington and the Under Armour campus.

Proposed Carroll Park Golf Course Clubhouse near Monroe Street - incorporating an entrance under the CSX railroad track
 to link the course to the remainder of Carroll Park - as envisioned by Marc Szarkowski.

To give the golf course a real urban presence and identity, a new clubhouse should be built at this location, just north of the huge Montgomery Park building on Monroe Street. A design such as Mac Szarkowski's illustrated here would befit Under Armour's support for golf in a struggling inner city community and in the city's most historic corridor.

The "Under Armour Performance Golf Clubhouse" has a nice resonance to it, doesn't it? A nice place for a retreat or a power lunch away from the office.

Golf course view from the proposed Clubhouse location in Carroll Park near Monroe Street.
 The nine holes could be renumbered to put Hole #1 and Hole #9 right here.

The Port Covington connection

Until the 1980s, Port Covington was the harborside rail yard at the terminus of the Western Maryland railroad, which became expendable after CSX bought it out.

Now the massive size of the 13 million square foot Under Armour plan for Port Covington calls for an emphasis on mass transit to provide the necessary access. Too much development is planned to allow automobiles to be the predominate mode of access. The plan calls for a new rail transit spur to the existing Central Light Rail Line which serves Downtown, Westport, BWI-Marshall Airport, Hunt Valley and other points in between.

Relationship of Port Covington to the Inner Harbor, Carroll Park and the Central Light Rail Line in blue.
A proposed light rail spur is shown in orange, which could be continued westward in the Monroe Street corridor to Carroll Park and the golf course,
then along the B&O Railroad Mount Clare corridor back to downtown, creating great redevelopment opportunities for Southwest Baltimore.

This plan could easily be expanded to serve the old Western Maryland corridor to Carroll Park and the golf course. Port Covington denizens could easily hop on a train for a two-mile ride to the golf course to play a quick nine-holes in the middle of their ambitious 14 hour work day (work hard, play hard!) And Carroll Park is only a nine-hole course anyway.

West of Westport, since the old Western Maryland track is still being used by CSX freight trains, the rail transit line would be much more feasibly be built to streetcar standards on Monroe Street.

This line would be part of a whole new compatible streetcar system, optimized for shorter trips and designed so that the same rail vehicles could be used on-street or off-street. The system would serve a new dispersed crosstown urban development pattern away from downtown, of which Port Covington is the leading example. A downsized Red Line would be the trunk line and prototype for this new integrated rail system.

There are special opportunities for streetcars in the Carroll Park area. Monroe Street is adjacent to the MTA's historic streetcar barn (now used for buses), part of which could easily be reverted back to a streetcar storage and maintenance facility as well as a museum. Thus, modern and vintage streetcars could share the same tracks.

The vintage streetcars could travel from the historic streetcar barn around Carroll Park to the "First Mile" Mount Clare B&O Railroad corridor and then to the B&O Railroad Museum, and thus be an integral part of its story of American railroading. The modern streetcars could proceed in a larger crosstown arc to the Inner Harbor or the Lexington Market transit hub which it would share with the revised and downsized Red Line.

Southwest spin-off development

With these connections, Port Covington is poised to encourage west-side spin-off development in a way that the waterfront development on the east-side cannot do. On the east side, Harbor East and Harbor Point were last steps after redevelopment of the Fells Point and Canton waterfront. Similarly on the South Baltimore peninsula, Port Covington is a last step after Federal Hill, Locust Point and Riverside. All this has come largely at the expense of the west side, as the city's economic energy has gravitated toward the waterfront. But a last step for South Baltimore's redevelopment can become a first step for West Baltimore.

Southwest Baltimore can be the yang to Port Covington's yin. Since Under Armour's Port Covington will exude nonstop newness, an adjacent area steeped in history will be a welcome contrast.

Six mile greenway loop for walking, running or cycling through historic West Baltimore from Carroll Park
 and its golf course in blue) around to the Gwynns Falls Valley (in green) and Downtown (in purple).

But while the new and old would be the complementary contrasting themes, a commitment to active recreation would be the overarching common theme.

The unifying element in West Baltimore would be a six-mile greenway loop. It would share much of the right-of-way of the proposed streetcar line in the B&O Railroad "First Mile" corridor, as well as the Red Line right-of-way in the "Highway to Nowhere" corridor, with many opportunities for transit oriented development.

This greenway loop would do for West Baltimore what the proposed waterfront promenade would do for Port Covington, each taking maximum advantage of its attributes - new waterfront development in Port Covington and two and a half centuries of history in West Baltimore.

In sum, Under Armour's Port Covington would be positioned not merely as the southern tip of the South Baltimore peninsula but as an anchor for the revitalization of West Baltimore. And golf at the Carroll Park course would be the attraction that leads the way.

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