Baltimore Sun

Harborplac­e redevelopm­ent is an ‘all-hands’ moment for Baltimore


There was a time when indoor retailing space, with restaurant­s and food courts and major department store “anchors,” dominated not just retailing but the social scene. “See you at the mall” was a common refrain a generation ago — before the enormous popularity of online shopping made them largely extinct and COVID-19 drove a final nail in that coffin. So-called “dead malls” now can be found all over this country, empty shells of their former selves.

In many locations, especially in the more affluent suburbs, such spaces could be repurposed with relative ease. Baltimore’s Harborplac­e, once a symbol of the city’s urban renaissanc­e and a major tourist attraction, but now just another dead mall, has been slow to find its afterlife. But all that could be changing — if the developer now charged with the challengin­g task can get a “yes” to the following question:

Will Baltimore’s local businesses lead the charge to bring new life to the Inner Harbor and downtown area?

The point was made this week by developer P. David Bramble, who is planning the next steps in the revival of Harborplac­e, during the annual “State of the Downtown” gathering sponsored by the Downtown Partnershi­p of Baltimore. As reported by the Baltimore Business Journal, Bramble, a Baltimore native, observed that his investment of time and money alone will not be enough to guarantee success.

We think he’s exactly right. As crucial as James Rouse was to creating Harborplac­e (which opened in 1980) from a site that had once been a steamship dock, it was part of a much-broader effort to revive the downtown that was strongly supported by business and civic leaders. Rouse had vision, but many others showed a willingnes­s to take a chance from the smaller vendors setting up shop in the Pratt or Light Street Pavilion to major employers like T. Rowe Price maintainin­g their headquarte­rs near the waterfront.

There are many challenges, of course. Gun violence and public safety in the city has commanded much attention (although 300 murders per year in the city was just as common a circumstan­ce in the mid-1990s as today). There’s

been a distinct shift of business district developmen­t that favors nearby Harbor East and Harbor Point in recent years. And post-COVID downtown occupancy rates are improving but are not yet in rebound mode. Downtown most recently reported an 81.7% occupancy rate with downtown hotels struggling for bookings and overall conditions not quite back to pre-pandemic levels.

But there are hopeful signs, including billions of dollars in new investment. A recent Pew Charitable Trusts survey found Baltimore outperform­ing Philadelph­ia and New York in employment growth. And then there are the high-profile projects like the renovation of what is now the CFG Bank Arena and the high-profile, if largely throwback, acts coming to town in the weeks ahead, including the Eagles in early April; Lizzo and Janet Jackson in May; Lionel Richie and Earth, Wind & Fire in August; and KISS in November. Throw in Bruce Springstee­n at both the Arena and at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, as well as Billy Joel and Stevie Nicks at M&T Bank Stadium in the fall, and you can sense a building excitement.

And, for the record, we’d note that this month also marks the return of The Baltimore Sun to downtown as staffers begin occupying a renovated space at 200 St. Paul Place, just a few blocks away from our old haunt on North Calvert Street. Some of us will continue to work virtually or split the workweek between home and downtown, as has become preferred practice in many industries post COVID. But many of us are looking forward to helping downtown streets that were virtually deserted at the height of COVID return to their pre-pandemic bustling selves.

We hope it’s all combining to set the stage for a re-imagined Harborplac­e, which will begin with an interim phase to revive the pavilions before moving on to a true redevelopm­ent, one that is informed by community meetings and outreach.

As a mall, Harborplac­e is no more. But as a centerpiec­e of the downtown waterfront? We still believe the sky is the limit and urge an “all-hands-on-deck” and “all-in” approach to creating something that will make Baltimore proud — and prosperous.

 ?? BARBARA HADDOCK TAYLOR/BALTIMORE SUN ?? Michael Soots feeds birds outside the Pratt Street Pavilion as Harborplac­e and its pavilions are set for a serious makeover.
BARBARA HADDOCK TAYLOR/BALTIMORE SUN Michael Soots feeds birds outside the Pratt Street Pavilion as Harborplac­e and its pavilions are set for a serious makeover.

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