A large crowd of young people -- described by witnesses as rowdy, rude, fighting or "just hanging out" -- led to the closing of Harborplace shops an hour early Sunday night and prompted complaints yesterday about downtown security.
The young people -- about 4,000 of them, according to a police estimate -- surged along nearby streets after leaving the Inner Harbor promenade, but authorities reported no resulting crime, damage or arrests.
"It's a traditional thing on Easter" for youngsters to gather there, said Lt. Robert F. Smith, head of the Baltimore Police Department's Inner Harbor unit, adding that the crowd may have been larger this year because the weather was pleasant.
It was never necessary to force the youths and young adults to leave the amphitheater and promenade, where they were milling about "acting like kids," Lieutenant Smith said. "It's a park, and they had as much right to be there as anyone else."
The lieutenant said he sees larger crowds at the Inner Harbor during Orioles games, on other holidays and throughout the summer.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, in Annapolis last night for adjournment of the General Assembly, said the early closing at Harborplace was based on "unsubstantiated rumors."
Without informing city officials, Mr. Schmoke said, the Rouse Co. ordered the Harborplace pavilions closed early based on reports that "thousands of kids" were descending on the Inner Harbor.
Mr. Schmoke said he had not been told of any reports of fighting that had broken out among the youths.
Deputy Police Commissioner Melvin McQuay met with Rouse security personnel yesterday to ask that Harborplace not be closed in such a way again, Mr. Schmoke said, adding that company and city officials have set up a procedure, including notification to the city, if the pavilions are closed early again.
"There were large numbers of kids -- it happens every spring -- and a number went into some of the restaurants, asking to go to the bathroom," Mr. Schmoke said. "Some of the managers thought that thousands of kids were coming down . . . but it was nowhere near that number."
Perceptions of what happened at Harborplace and along nearby streets were varied. Several white people expressed fear or discomfort at the racial makeup of the crowd -- it was largely black -- and said there was a noticeable lack of police officers to control the movement and provide a sense of security.
"A small group of juveniles started fistfights which the city police took care of immediately. There were no weapons and no damage," Harborplace spokeswoman Kate Delano said.
She said the merchants were supposed to be open on Easter from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. but had the option to stay open until 8 p.m. Most, she said, do not opt for the later hours on the holiday, and "we closed the building at 7 p.m." Restaurants set their own hours, and some of them stayed open.
"We made a determination that the majority of the people were not shopping and eating. . . . It was suggested that [merchants] close because it wasn't a productive business environment in terms of spending money," Ms. Delano said.
Management has made this kind of decision before, she said, citing in particular the Fourth of July.
"It just looked like inner city schools let out and everybody came down to the harbor," said Dave Holmes, a bus boy at Paolo's restaurant in the Light Street Pavilion. "The crowd was getting active, and someone started screaming, and everyone started running."
He said youths "were running back and forth and chanting and singing" as the crowd grew in late afternoon but added that the police "were there everywhere" and that the situation seemed to grow calmer later in the evening.
"I'm not exaggerating, there were 2,000 young kids, girls, boys," said Eddie Evans, a mate on the Harbor Shuttle water taxi. "Truthfully, I thought there'd be a riot."
As the evening wore on, he said, "they put guards outside all the entrances of the mall. Some passengers were afraid to get off."
Danny Zellers, manager of Wayne's Barbecue, on the ground level of the Light Street Pavilion facing the harbor, said the restaurant closed at 8 p.m., an hour earlier than usual, at the recommendation of mall guards. He said the crowd was not angry but that he saw one fight, involving about six youths, as the crowd jammed the Harborplace amphitheater, the outdoor promenades and the inside aisles.
Kevin Bonner, general manager of Paolo's, said he believes the events of Sunday night have been exaggerated. "A lot of what happened . . . was false perceptions by people. There were a lot of youths down here, an excessive number of youths, in the Inner Harbor area.
"There were a couple of fights. Harborplace management made the decision to close some of the buildings down. . . . They just prevented the youths from entering the building, which is what ++ they wanted to do."
The situation was "a crowd-control problem," he said.