Welsh port imitates Baltimore

October 24, 1994|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,London Bureau of The Sun

CARDIFF, Wales -- They're crazy about Baltimore here.

Baltimore inspired Cardiff's waterfront "regeneration strategy."

Cardiff is modeling its Inner Harbor development on Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

Its officials hired Ben Thompson & Associates, the designer of Harborplace, as their consultant.

They've got a science center and they're planning an IMAX cinema.

They're even going to name one of their Inner Harbor pubs The Baltimore Arms.

And they're sending a trade and friendship mission to Baltimore tomorrow and Wednesday , led by Sir Geoffrey Inkin, chairman of the Cardiff Bay Development Corp., and Michael Boyce, the chief executive.

They're even bringing along the BBC Welsh National Orchestra for a concert tomorrow evening at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

Sir Geoffrey and Mr. Boyce will be hosts of a breakfast for the business community at Baltimore's World Trade Center Wednesday. Mr. Boyce has been a frequent visitor to Baltimore and the sort of devoted fan that gladdens the heart of that nonpareil booster, Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

Roughly 200 miles west of London on the Bristol Channel, Cardiff, with a population of 300,000, is less than half Baltimore's size. But, as the capital of Wales, it is the major city for about 1.5 million people.

Plans are ambitious. Initial public funding is expected to generate $3.2 billion to $3.5 billion in private investment by the time the project is completed around the year 2005, according to Frank Leavers, spokesman for the Cardiff Bay Development Corp. Included are industrial redevelopment and housing as well as Inner Harbor-type attractions.

As old industrial port cities fighting decline, Baltimore and Cardiff have had a lot in common, but Cardiff's waterfront redevelopment area is far larger, 2,700 acres -- that's around four square miles. Cardiff's core Inner Harbor on Cardiff Bay, however, is roughly the same size and shape as Baltimore's.

"Until 1912, Cardiff was one of the most important cities in the world," Mr. Boyce says, loyally. "In fact, the whole of the world's economy was driven from here. Because the world's economy (( was driven by the price of coal."

Coal was King and King Coal's capital was Cardiff, the greatest coal port in the world at the end of World War I. The economic collapse of the 1920s and the Great Depression of the 1930s mortally wounded the old king and oil killed him. Cardiff now imports more coal than it ships out.

"This area in 1985 was like being on the moon. It was total desolation," Mr. Boyce says. "For a city to fall into decline affects its pride and dignity. We wanted to put the city back on the world's stage, and in doing so, completely regenerate the economy of the area.

"Baltimore became our point of inspiration, I suppose. Some [place]

which had actually completed a dockland regeneration and made it successful.

"Inner Harbor Baltimore sounded very much like Inner Harbor Cardiff," Mr. Boyce says. "We thought we'd learn from Baltimore's experience, learn from Baltimore's process. And that's what we've been doing."

The Cardiff Bay Development Corp., a government agency, was started up in 1987, and after several years' planning, work began on infrastructure. Now sites are largely cleared and building has begun. They've snagged a Dutch credit insurance company and a German-Japanese joint venture that will manufacture television picture tubes in the development area, creating 750 jobs over three years.

They've sought to apply Baltimore's successes and avoid its mistakes. From Baltimore, Mr. Boyce says, Cardiff learned it must have significant public sector commitment and investment before it can expect the private investment.

And there must be a "critical mass" of visitors' attractions.

"And we've copied that," Mr. Boyce says. "Our visitor attractions are going to be a lot more expensive and a lot grander than Inner Harbor Baltimore.

"One's going to be the finest opera house in the world," he says, without undue modesty. The front-running design right now is by a controversial world-class architect, a London-based Iraqi woman, Zaha Hadid.

Among the things in Baltimore's development they'll reject is allowing separation of their developments and the city center by busy streets like Pratt, Lombard and Light. They're burying their main highway.

And they'll develop around the people who live there now rather than move them, avoiding the displacement that occurred in parts of Federal Hill.

"We're seeking to take the existing community along with the development so they are the beneficiaries of it," Mr. Boyce says.

His office backs up on public housing, a multicultural community where 13 languages are spoken. "This will stay and be upgraded and be a part of the future," he says. "And that's within sight of the opera house."

Mr. Boyce is enthusiastic, but Cardiff's biggest Baltimore booster has to be John Allinson, an artist who is painting jazzy murals for The Baltimore Arms, the new pub. He spent a couple weeks in Baltimore in July and had an exhibition of his paintings at the Dead End saloon in Fells Point.

"I loved Fells Point," he says. "I was made welcome by so many people."

He got the full Baltimore treatment. Gene Raynor, state elections chief and major-domo of Fells Point, took him to see Governor Schaefer, who made him an honorary Marylander. Mr. Allinson presented the governor with a painting of Cardiff. Ricky Ormond, the Lord Mayor of Cardiff, in his turn sent his blessings to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Baltimore, including especially the Dead End saloon.

And in the spirit of all this happy reciprocity, Mr. Allinson would like to see the Dead End at least subtitled "The Cardiff Bay Mermaid." That's the symbol of the Cardiff Bay Development Corp.

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