Monday, June 17, 2024

An early summer Monday afternoon at Baltimore's HarborPlace

 In an effort to promote re-development of HarborPlace potentially with demolition of the pavilions and the erection of 23 story high-rise apartment buildings, there is a steady stream of messages that denigrate the condition of HarborPlace today. 

True, the Inner Harbor has seen better days and the two pavilions were the victims of severe neglect by the previous owners. 

Nevertheless, a lot what is being said is overblown, proffered by people who hardly ever go there, or by those who have an interest in describing all things Baltimore as hopeless.

So I set out at an extended lunch hour to explore the reality of HarborPlace. (I have done this a few times recently). Yes, the day of my exploration was the last day of Fleet week but it was also hot Monday, usually a slow day.

Below a series of pictures that with a few short captions show that HarborPlace is far from a forlorn, downtrodden and deserted area where nobody wants to go.

The Instagram moment is programmed here. Visit Baltimore says 27 million people visited Baltimore in 2023. Many of those will undoubtedly show up at the Inner Harbor

The fleetweek ship doesn't look as romantic as the tall sailing ships, but it is an attraction nevertheless
 and an example of what the Inner Harbor needs: A steady stream of events and things to do there. Currently the there is no clear definition of who is in charge of making this happen. The Waterfront Partnership? The Downtown Partnership? Baltimore Promotion and and Arts (BOPA)? Who is the consistent cheerleader for HarborPlace? (David Bramble?)
Counter to some particular narratives,  a very diverse crowd can be seen at HarborPlace, far from "nobody goes there anymore and we urgently need 900 apartments to get people there". One can be pretty certain that the people milling around are predominantely not residents from the 414 Light Street tower nor from any of the many other residential buildings circling the Inner Harbor.

Counter to the prevailing narrative, MCB has done a good job bringing businesses back into the pavilions and they are now far from empty. Some stalwarts like the Cheesecake Factory never left.

According to a narrative that is also repeated by many architects, the backside of the pavilions is horrible. As a matter of fact, it isn't really all that bad and could be improved easily, for example with open passages between front and back

this is the only actual loading area on the Light Street side with its own drive bay. Its not that the proposed mega development would not need loading and services as well.

The common narrative bemoans the barren treeless and hot landscape of the current HarborPlace. However, there are already plenty of trees, even on the "backside" of the Light Street pavilion. 

MCB is offering deals for start-up retail that have brought some life back into the pavilions

A current temporary feature includes trellises and Adirondack chairs to sit down and enjoy the water

True, too many prominent stores and restaurants remain vacant

This is the backside of the Pratt Street pavilion. The proposed "Sail Building" would cover this entire space all the way to the line where the street tree sits

this passages correspond with the building gables and could be opened up front to back and the escalators need to be brought back for access to the second level. 

One of the currently open retail spaces "Its Sugar". 

The water taxi has reduced hours (Thurs-Sun) and usually doesn't run on Mondays except when booked for a tour

The new Constellation Visitor Center as seen from the shade of one of the trees.

Ashkenazy, the previous owner of the pavilions which went into foreclosure had begun upgrading the Pratt Street pavilion and abandoned the effort midway. 

Counter to current narratives, there are several indoor and outdoor eating venues, especially popular the Cheesecake Factory. 

Lobster at the Pratt Street pavilion.

Another one of the passages between front and back

One again the "backside of the Pratt Street pavilion which isn't nearly as bad as it is said to be.

Al Fresco dining

The promenade is not barren as one of the narratives declares it to be

the Constellation and its new Visitor Center

High tide is now lapping frequently at the lowest portion of the promenade fueling the narrative that the promenade and the pavilions are doomed because of sea-level rise
. However, the promenade has only in parts ever flooded (its height varies) and the pavilions are several feet above the promenade and have never flooded to date. (Forecasts predict a 1% flooding possibility for them in 2060). It will take a very comprehensive approach to face 6-7’ sea level rise, making the promenade 3’ higher over 600’ or so now is not a comprehensive solution. 
Reduced schedule for the water taxi until all the tourists come back.

More al fresco dining at the Light Street pavilion

The Visitor Center is one of the upgrades the Inner Harbor has seen over time and it has become its own destination among other things for bathrooms). 

Once again, the story about the shade and tree-less, barren HarborPlace is a myth

The last touches on the floating wetlands set out next to the Aquarium 

Counter to the prevailing narrative, the PowerPlant businesses are not all closed. Phillips, once located at the Light Street pavilion is open and allows outdoor dining
The National Aquarium remains an attraction all year round

More scenes from the "barren" Inner Harbor

Family entertainment includes paddleboats

Counter to  common assumption, the "top of the world" observation floor is open and can be visited all week.

The McKeldin Plza is only a sad shadow of its former self when it had the big walkable fountain. MCB's proposal to connect it by closing the Light to Calvert Street sur is taken from the Harbor 2.0 plan and remains a good idea.

Here some more pictures from other recent visits:

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA