Inner Harbor springs forward

March 28, 1994

As spring weather encourages more Baltimoreans and visitors to go to the Inner Harbor, they will see the city's premier tourist attraction changing and growing. Construction of the $160 million Columbus Center has reach the stage where exterior wall panels are being installed. A Teflon-coated fabric roof will be stretched next month over a three-level exhibit space, reminding those who never thought the marine-biology center would happen that it will be completed by January.

Anyone taking a stroll southeast from the Columbus Center site these days is sure to be surprised. At the end of President Street -- beyond a Civil War-era railroad station that will be restored by next spring -- an ambitious launching pad for future private development is being prepared through the expenditure of millions of dollars in city bonds. Street grids and decorative lamp posts have so far been provided for nearly half of a 20-acre waterfront parcel. A big marina is ready; a club house is under construction.

This is to be Inner Harbor East, a $350 million development of offices, residences and retail space Gilbane Properties and baking magnate John Paterakis hope to build.

Separated by a channel from that property is another future development parcel, a 15-acre tract owned by AlliedSignal. Its value is considerable. The industrial giant is spending about $90 million just to decontaminate the land so that it can be redeveloped as a mixed-use complex with dramatic views of the water and downtown Baltimore.

So far, efforts to expand the Inner Harbor east of its initial attractions -- the two Harborplace pavilions and the Gallery shopping and hotel complex -- have failed. The Pier 4 Power Plant amusement center is padlocked; the Fishmarket mall of bars is boarded up, the Brokerage is virtually empty. However, city development officials hope that each of these attractions will be revived with new concepts within the next two years and that their proximity to a new Metro station will make them more desirable and accessible to visitors.

Meanwhile, major reconstruction work is starting on Key Highway, between the Rusty Scupper and Locust Point. That work may temporarily hide an amazing transformation that is beginning along that stretch as well. The American Visionary Arts Museum is being built at the foot of Federal Hill Park; farther down past the HarborView condominium tower, the Baltimore Museum of Industry is about ready to expand.

A 7.5-mile waterfront promenade will ultimately run from Canton to Locust Point. This spring, many a casual stroller to the Inner Harbor will be surprised by the work in progress.

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