Trying to fill gaps Promenade: The effort to complete the 7 1/2 -mile Baltimore Waterfront Promenade is moving forward, but gaps remain.

October 12, 1997|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,SUN STAFF

On a fall evening that feels more like August in Baltimore, James Pomfret strolled along the harbor with this postcard-perfect backdrop of skyscrapers silhouetted in a blaze of lights against the night sky.

Pomfret knows the brick promenade hugging the Canton waterfront well: He's been walking it and working toward expanding the walkway from Canton to Locust Point for the better part of a decade. The Canton stockbroker and leader in the effort to complete the 7 1/2 -mile Baltimore Waterfront Promenade sees it as an investment in the city's most valuable, if still largely untapped, asset: its waterfront.

"Where else in the country has this -- 7 1/2 miles of waterfront -- with attractions, restaurants, pools, parks, marinas -- all along a promenade where you can walk right on the water?" Pomfret said.

"It's an economic generator, an engine, an attraction that's going to produce big revenues," he added. "This can be one of Baltimore's big attractions, to get people to come to the city, to come down here and walk this promenade and spend money and generate tax revenue for the city."

That view reflects a common sentiment and a decades-old vision: Urban renewal plans dating more than two decades specify that the waterfront be preserved for publicly accessible land to include walkways, parks and such, and developers are required to construct brick promenades when they build along the 7 1/2 -mile stretch.

Still, huge gaps remain in the plan to link the Canton Waterfront Park, Fells Point, Inner Harbor East, Little Italy, the Inner Harbor and the Baltimore Museum of Industry in South Baltimore.

Now, with the merger of the Baltimore Harbor Endowment, a group that had kept the effort alive for the past decade, and the non-profit Living Classrooms Foundation, the promenade appears to be moving forward at a faster rate than ever before.

Using $325,000 in federal transportation funds, the educational foundation, which also operates the USS Torsk submarine and two other historic ships, is building asphalt or wood pathways and bridges along portions of the waterfront in South Baltimore, near the base of Federal Hill and in Canton. Private developers, particularly in Canton, also are building brick stretches of the walkway. By next June, more than 90 percent of the promenade is scheduled to be completed.

Business leaders, urban planners and tourism experts look hopefully to the promenade as a key element in the effort to spread the Inner Harbor's riches along the banks of the harbor and foster more of the development that has transformed abandoned wharves, warehouses and factories into hip bars, condos and shops.

Ted Rouse, a partner at the Baltimore development company Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, said he recognized the potential when he started selling condos at the company's Tindeco Wharf project in Canton a decade ago.

"It's all about extending the magic of the Inner Harbor's waterfront walkway," Rouse said. "Water is magic. People want to work on the water. They want to live on the water. They want to vacation on the water. They want to retire on the water. It has the potential for huge economic spinoff for the city."

Where complete, the promenade is indeed a gem, the perfect place to jog, stroll, people-watch, drink a beer at one of the waterfront bars or simply sit on a bench for a quiet reprieve far removed from the bustle of the city.

Already, the city has sunk more than $5 million into extending the promenade beyond the Inner Harbor basin -- at Inner Harbor East and Broadway Pier in Fells Point.

But a wide gulf still stands between the vision and the reality. The federally funded sections to begin early next year are meant to be temporary links, with the hope that the asphalt or wood paths will eventually be replaced by brick promenade.

And several gaps will remain after the latest work is done: Along part of Key Highway, a sidewalk far from the water will have to suffice as the "waterfront" promenade, part of undeveloped land controlled by the owners of the Harborview tower. The western portion of Fells Point, land controlled by Constellation Realty that would connect to Inner Harbor East, does not link to the promenade at all, forcing pedestrians to walk Thames Street and other streets off the water. And the owners of Thames Point Apartments in Fells Point have refused to allow public access, creating a detour up Wolfe Street.

The gaps are no small source of frustration for Jerome Bird, the former head of the Baltimore Harbor Endowment who now serves as an adviser to the Living Classrooms promenade board.

"It's kind of like a bridge that doesn't connect in the middle as long as we have gaptooths," he said. "It was a beautiful vision, and it was written into law. What has not been done is to take it out of the law and put it into bricks and mortar through either incentives to do that or the city itself putting up the money to do it."

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