Change comes to Fells Point Predicament: Will construction alter the character of old waterfront community?

October 03, 1997

AS TENS OF thousands of merrymakers descend on Fells Point this weekend, they ought to venture beyond the fun festival site and take a good look -- before the big changes begin.

Dating back to the 1730s, Fells Point long was a thriving wharf area and canning center. By the 1960s, though, it was so decrepit highway planners wanted to demolish the neighborhood for an expressway. A fight ensued and the road was defeated. Gentrification began.

Today, Fells Point is approaching another turning point. Several big waterfront parcels await redevelopment, which can either enhance the community's ambiance or destroy it.

The biggest development site is a 25-acre parcel at Philpot and Wills streets. Blessed with spectacular views of the Inner Harbor and Baltimore skyline, it housed one of America's most important chromium producers for 140 years. When the plant closed in 1985, it left behind a contamination problem so huge that AlliedSignal, the land's owner, has spent $90 million over the past eight years to clean up the mess. That task is scheduled for completion by June.

AlliedSignal has city approval to construct a mixed-use, planned community on the parcel. It expects to begin searching for a developer before Christmas.

Also looking for a developer is Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s Constellation Real Estate Group, which controls waterfront parcels nearby. Meanwhile, the old Arundel Corp. concrete crusher site at Durham and Fell streets is ready for redevelopment.

"As far as vacant land with development potential, it's huge," says James Piper Bond of the Living Classrooms Foundation, an area institution. "It's important to retain the historical character of the area because that's what makes Fells Point what it is."

Several initiatives are under way to preserve more of Fells Point history. Among them is a park to honor Frederick Douglass, who worked in the area before escaping from slavery, and Isaac Meyers, an African American who operated a marine railway there after the Civil War.

Historic structures and contemporary design can coexist successfully. But as the redevelopment projects begin to take shape, utmost care has to be taken to make sure they do not conflict with Fells Point's traditions.

Pub Date: 10/03/97

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