Inner Harbor was inspiration for Va. city's revitalized look

August 28, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimoreans who visit Norfolk's revitalized waterfront may have a strange feeling they have been there before.

What was once an eyesore of rotting wharves and warehouses '' has been transformed under the direction of Columbia developer James Rouse into a brick-lined promenade with shops and restaurants.

At one end, the waterfront is anchored by a building of futuristic design that houses an aquatic educational center -- it is a major tourist attraction.

Nearby is a new baseball stadium, built with a brick exterior to look like on old-time ballpark.

Sound familiar? It should, because Norfolk is deliberately trying to duplicate the success of the Inner Harbor, even using some of the same developers and architects.

Driving into downtown, the first sight that catches the eye is the Waterside, a three-story glass and steel pavilion developed by Mr. Rouse that opened in 1983 and bears a striking resemblance to our Harborplace. There are 120 shops and restaurants, with the top floor dominated by Waterside Live!, which includes several nightclubs that feature music to suit almost any taste: rock and roll, R&B, jazz and country and western.

Next to Waterside on the way to Nauticus is the seven-acre Town Point Park, the site of 130 free events every year, including TGIF DOWNTOWN dance parties on Friday nights, the town's annual Harborfest celebration in June, the Town Point Jazz Festival in August and the Town Point Virginia Wine Festival in October.

The baseball stadium, Harbor Park Stadium, is no carbon copy of Camden Yards, although it was designed by the same architect, H. O. K. Inc. The 12,000-seat, natural-grass stadium, which opened in 1983, is home to the Norfolk Tides, a AAA farm team for the New York Mets. It is within easy walking distance of Waterside.

A great setting for a summer evening, the stadium has a picnic area in left field and a great view of the passing ships on the Elizabeth River beyond the outfield fence from the upper deck seats. A restaurant in the right field foul territory, Hits at the Park, has an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Norfolk's Main Street was once a version of The Block that was four blocks long, crammed with bars,strip joints and tattoo parlors, and frequented by sailors on leave. About 15 years ago, the businesses were evicted and the buildings leveled, with banks and hotels slowly taking their place.

The first building project was an Omni Hotel, which opened in 1978. A high-rise hotel built by the Marriott Corp. and a convention center across the street from Waterside were opened three years ago.

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