Expanding the Inner Harbor

July 01, 1992

A couple of years ago, several brainstorming conferences were held to create a new "vision" for Baltimore's future. Like other committee sessions by well-meaning people, they produced lots of ideas. Visions leading to what real estate developers call "big bang" dividends to the community, however, are more difficult to come up with than mere ideas.

We mention all this as an introduction to Allied-Signal Inc.'s concept for redeveloping its old chrome processing plant site. That 20-acre parcel in Fells Point juts out into the harbor and is a pivotal corner of a shoreline that stretches from Fort McHenry to Canton. Together with another 20-acre site, John Paterakis' Inner Harbor East, that acreage is a key to the eastward expansion of the Inner Harbor.

For 140 years, chrome was processed on the Allied site. As a result, much of the soil and ground water is contaminated to a depth of 80 feet. Under a consent agreement with state and federal regulators, the chemical company is now spending an estimated $80 million to remedy the effects of that contamination. After completing bulkheads, retaining walls and a multilayer "cap," it hopes to cash in on the views and location of the property and redevelop it.

A 1988 study commissioned by the city envisioned the Allied site as a park, perhaps with an opera house or some other major public use. Allied has come up with a conceptual plan of its own. It wants to redevelop the shorefront into a relatively high-density complex of commercial and residential uses, with a corporate or institutional headquarters as the lead tenant.

When this concept was presented to a Fells Point community meeting recently, it was greeted with emotions ranging from enthusiasm to outright hostility. A sketchy plan of this magnitude should provoke debate and scrutiny. Indeed, Allied itself is making a lot of big assumptions. It assumes, for example, that it can satisfy the safety concerns of state and federal environmental regulators as well as outside investors. Yet the company is willing to take the risk, if it can obtain city council approval for a change in the Fells Point urban renewal ordinance.

We find the rough development concept an appealing one. With the city in no position to purchase or maintain more park land, Allied is proposing a plan that would safeguard public access to the shoreline with promenades and walkways. At the same time, private development of the parcel would increase Baltimore's real estate tax base. This would seem a winning formula as the city considers its future.

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