Reinventing Harborplace: Baltimore needs a safe, vibrant, inclusive and fun gathering place

The announced acquisition of Harborplace by Baltimore developer P. David Bramble and MCB Real Estate might be the best news heard in downtown Baltimore in years (a concert performed in June by a certain former member of the Beatles notwithstanding). The twin pavilions have been so dull and faded, so many shadows of themselves for so long, it’s easy to forget what Harborplace once meant to this town.

Millennials and younger, here’s a hint: in the age of the United States’ bicentennial celebration, what was once a trading port and warehouse gradually transformed into a gleaming tourism mecca, ground zero for the renaissance. from Baltimore. People came from far and wide to shop, walk the boardwalk, visit attractions like the Maryland Science Center, National Aquarium, Rash Field and Port Discovery Children’s Museum, to see and be seen. Baltimore captured national attention. There was a certain pride in this product of James Rouse’s civic leadership and transformative vision.

And then came the negligence. Then came the evolution of public tastes. Then came a better understanding of the urgent need for Baltimore to devote more public resources to its most neglected neighborhoods and perhaps less to what some saw as a playground for wealthy white commuters. Add to that indifferent ownership, the rise of internet commerce that has emptied brick-and-mortar malls and regional malls, the COVID-19 pandemic, and an epidemic of violent crime that, while barely centered on the Inner Harbor, didn’t spare it either, and what once looked like the Baltimore diamond soon looked like a cubic zirconia.

Baltimore can do better. And in Mr. Bramble, a Baltimore native who sees Harborplace as the “front door” of the city and insists that Baltimore has “10 times” more opportunities than problems, we seem to have the perfect candidate to lead this reinvention. He already speaks not of a renovation, but of a “reinvention” of the area with a considerable contribution from the community. We believe he is absolutely right. Gone are the days of expecting indoor malls, even those with food courts and rides, to do all the heavy lifting. So is the idea that such ambitions are best left to the city’s top civic and business leaders. So what should a reimagined Harborplace feature be? Here are some ideas.

  • Entertainment, the G-rated genre. Let’s not forget where we are. These existing opportunities around the Inner Harbor include family-friendly tourist attractions such as Oriole Park at Camden Yards to the west and the restaurants of Harbor East to the east. People of all ages should be able to come downtown to have fun. Wouldn’t it be great to have street performers, entertainers and other artists front and center in this public space? Baltimore has an impressive and eclectic collection of talent to meet that need.
  • Make it local. Let’s have more authenticity and less national channel representation this time around. The redevelopment of Lexington Market is already moving in this direction. Look at Hampden or Canton Square or Fells Point or Mount Vernon. Baltimore can do market places.
  • Let it be welcoming. Just as the new Harborplace should have visible security, like these helpful guides to downtown Baltimore provided by the Downtown Partnership, it should also be a safe space for everyone, not just strangers, regardless of race, class, age or creed.
  • And, finally, we’d like to see a revised Harborplace reflect Baltimore’s unique history. There should be elements of what has made this city great since its days as a trading port. The “porch” should celebrate its working-class roots and small-town vibe, its love of steamed crabs, and its place as a mid-Atlantic crossroads, home to the first commercial railroad in the United States and namesake of the Baltimore Clipper, the fast-moving sailing ships of the late 18th century.

Oh, and one more thing, Mr. Bramble, could you make it pedestrian friendly as well? Maybe it’s too much to ask, maybe it’s not realistic, maybe it’s too expensive. But wouldn’t it be great to see the energy and excitement of the 1980s return to downtown Baltimore and perhaps spread throughout the city from there?

The Baltimore Sun’s editorial writers offer opinion and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the press room.

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