Mayor of Barcelona stars in sequel to Inner Harbor

ON THE WATERFRONT

July 22, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

BARCELONA SPAIN — BARCELONA, Spain -- The mayor is busy. Very busy. He is attending meetings. Cutting ribbons. Shaking hands.

The Summer Olympics are opening Saturday in his town of 1.7 BTC million people. Garbage must be collected. Streets closed. A security force of 42,000 deployed.

Still, Pasqual Maragall has time to talk and reflect.

The subject is Baltimore's Inner Harbor project.

To understand what is happening to Maragall's city in the wake )) of the Olympics, you must go to the waterfront. The beach is open for the first time in a generation. A 2,000-apartment athletes' village has risen in land once blighted by abandoned factories. Nearby, construction workers are putting the finishing touches on twin 42-story buildings.

The plans. The vision. It came from Baltimore, where Maragall lived for four months in 1978 when he was a guest lecturer at Johns Hopkins University.

Back then, he was a political leader in the making, compiling academic credentials and a lengthy resume. In Baltimore, he lived in a Charles Village townhouse, attended Orioles games, wandered through Fells Point.

"The downtown was a disaster," he said.

But five years later, leading a group of Barcelona leaders on a tour of the Inner Harbor, Maragall saw the benefits of a rebuilt waterfront.

"I took some ideas of the change from Baltimore to this project in Barcelona," he said. "Our style, of course, is not the same. We are a Mediterranean town. The dimension and size are different than in Baltimore. But the concept is the same."

Build from the water. The businesses will come. The tourists will follow.

Sound familiar?

"It is as if the square meters of water is now more valuable than the square meters of land," he said.

Now, Maragall and Barcelona are on display.

The mayor is 51, a Socialist in the midst of his third term. He lists John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. as his political idols. He regularly consults with former New York City Mayor Ed Koch. His academic credentials are impeccable, degrees from schools Spain and the United States, a six-month grant to study in Paris, a stint lecturing in Baltimore.

The grandson of a poet, the son of a politician, Maragall combines a gift of oratory with the savvy manner of a ward boss. He even gives a good photo opportunity, ruffling through papers ignite a torrent of strobe flashes, hugging a tearful administrator at the opening of the press center, pausing and talking with workers while touring a new Olympic cafeteria.

"In the true spirit of the Games, they belong to nobody, and everybody," said Maragall, who heads the local organizing committee.

The city will double its population in the next two weeks. Athletes must be housed and fed. Dignitaries received. Tourists and spectators directed to hotels, stadiums, train stations and a refurbished airport.

"The Games have already started as far as I'm concerned," he said. "I think the curtain has lifted and Barcelona is functioning."

Call this an $8 billion opening by the sea.

At one point, there were 350 projects being built simultaneously, from hotels to a ring road to stadiums. All were part of Barcelona's dramatic five-year facelift spawned by its winning Olympic bid in 1986.

When Maragall took office four years earlier, the city had reached a nadir, battered by twin body blows left by the Arab oil boycott from 1973 and a lingering recession. One local columnist likened the city to the Titanic.

Actually, it was more of a sleeping giant, kept under the firm grip of Gen. Francisco Franco. The Spanish dictator stymied nearly all development in Barcelona, and, until his death in 1975, he even tried to ban the city's language of choice, Catalan.

"The changes that everyone wanted had to wait," Maragall said. "Barcelona had not had a good period from the 1930s until now. And then, everything was done. People ask, 'How could you do in a short period of time what you had to do?' You must understand that Barcelona has been thinking of these things for decades."

Now, the new jewels for a reborn city glitter in the night. The athletes are arriving. The Games, planned for years, will begin in days.

"These Games are a hope for the world," he said. "They are a meeting point. We will have one Germany, the disappearance of the Cold War, the appearance of South Africa. We will have a Games of peace."

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