Harbor strollers take a shine to lights

January 02, 1995|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Sun Staff Writer

As if in a scene from a "Superman" movie, people walked along Baltimore's Inner Harbor yesterday evening, staring toward the heavens to admire the latest addition to the night sky -- eight shafts of light that spread out for miles in all directions.

"They're magnificent," said Barbara Gallagher, who lives nearby in the Harbor Court Apartments.

"I think it's great," said Chuck Cummings of Fells Point. "It's the first thing we saw coming into town [from South Baltimore]."

"Looks like the Death Star from Star Wars," said Scott MacDonald, 19, of Columbia, who spotted the lights from Interstate 95 at the Beltway.

The narrow beams came from the top of the World Trade Center and are the most controversial part of a plan to illuminate the Baltimore skyline.

The campaign, "Brighten Baltimore," is designed to persuade property owners and managers to light up Baltimore's best-known buildings to make downtown seem safer and more vibrant. While the plan calls for merely illuminating most buildings, the World Trade Center project has generated the most concern because it casts beams of light across the city.

Some have worried that the lights might affect migrating birds or be a nuisance to nearby residents. After only two nights, it was hard to gauge any ill effects or find detractors along the harbor's red-brick promenade.

"How can you not like it?" asked Sharon Reuter, a graphic artist who lives nearby in Ridgely's Delight.

When her husband, Bill, noted that some astronomers have worried that the lights would blot out stars, she responded: "Oh, please!"

"I haven't seen a star in Baltimore yet," Mr. Reuter said.

Walter Johnson said the lights look "great" from the Hyatt Regency Hotel's rooftop restaurant, Berry & Elliot's, where he is assistant manager. Patrons on New Year's Eve liked them a lot, he said, while acknowledging that "everyone was pretty sloshed last night."

Nearby apartment dwellers had only good things to say about the illumination last night.

Ms. Gallagher, who lives on the 10th floor of the Harbor Court Apartments, said she thinks the lights are great and that her neighbors do, too.

"I don't find it a nuisance," said Mary Johnson, a retired hairdresser who lives on the sixth floor of the Christ Church Harbor Apartments. "I found it kind of nice. It softens that big old building. It's not just a piece of granite sitting there all the time."

Charles McElfish, a volunteer worker at the Christ Church Apartments, said he had heard no criticisms from residents there, but had one of his own.

"I think it's a colossal waste of electricity," he said.

It seemed contradictory, he said, for a building to be shining lights across the city at the same time that people are trying to insulate their homes to save electricity.

The cost of running the Trade Center lights is not known. However, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. estimates that the cost of illuminating a downtown building could range from $200 to $1,000 a month, increasing the building owners' electric bills by an average of less than 1 percent.

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