Spiffier Inner Harbor on way Harborplace, Gallery to unveil many new or new-look shops

'Change is the lifeblood'

Convention center, new hotels hold promise of good times


March 22, 1998|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

Harborplace, which transformed the banks of Baltimore's Inner Harbor into a crowd-drawing destination 18 years ago, is completing its first major renovation in hopes of restoring some of its faded luster.

For the twin waterfront pavilions, along with their Rouse Co. neighbor across Pratt Street, the Gallery, springtime will usher in dozens of new, remodeled or expanded shops and restaurants and a fresher look.

"Constant change is the lifeblood of the business," said Anthony Hawkins, vice president and group director of the Rouse Co., developer of both retail centers.

But to some, including Rouse officials who had failed in a bid to get $13 million in public subsidies to refurbish the rundown "festival" shopping complex, change is overdue.

In making its case, the Columbia developer had argued that the popular destination, and by extension, downtown, would continue losing visitors without the infusion of taxpayers' money. Rouse, which ended up financing the current project but remains mum about costs, is reinventing the retail centers in an attempt to lure more people from the region to shop and eat out downtown.

At the multilevel Gallery mall, that means a new emphasis on apparel retailers and new restaurants. At Harborplace, which plans to unveil its newly remodeled Light Street Pavilion April 1, it means positioning a mix of local and national retailers around large, themed restaurants, including the Cheesecake Factory, which opened over a year ago, and Planet Hollywood, to open in May.

In the Light Street Pavilion, renovations of the 20,000-square-foot former Sam Smith Market will be complete in April. A renamed market will house 34 shops, kiosks and carts, some original tenants.

The market, originally designed as an incubator from which crafts people and artisans could move into ready-built storefronts, will get terra cotta and stone flooring, new lighting and signs and storefronts fashioned from mahogany and glass.

The decor will then blend in with similar remodeling completed on the pavilion's first level last summer.

Throughout the pavilion, retailers will expand or roll out new concepts, including the conversion of the Nature Co. to the Discovery Channel Store, expansions of the Flag Shop and Paolo's restaurant and the addition of several stalls in the food court.

Besides Planet Hollywood, the Pratt Street Pavilion will get a new restaurant in the former Bamboo House, retailers selling sportswear, arts-related merchandise and home accessories and an expanded the Irish Country Store.

New faces at Gallery

The 135,927-square-foot Gallery is in the midst of the biggest turnover of tenants in its decade-long history -- primarily because most tenants had 10-year leases, Hawkins said.

"We're upscaling the retail presentation," he said. "There is a retail market downtown we need to address."

That market can only grow with the addition of at least two new hotels and increased convention business from the expanded Baltimore Convention Center, he said.

Within the past year, new retailers have included Talbot's and April Cornell, which moved from Harborplace in November. Rouse officials promise at least two more big names, a national apparel retailer in 4,000 square feet vacated by the Sharper Image, and a local women's wear retailer on the second level, replacing Uzzolo, a furniture and home accessories store slated to move to Harborplace.

Brooks Brothers will double in size. Eat At Joe's Diner, a 1950s theme restaurant, will open in the former Au Bon Pain space. And a new, 3,000-square-foot restaurant will replace the closed Stone Mill Bakery.

"What you're seeing in Harborplace is part of a rebirth of existing retail around the harbor," said M. J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development agency.

That rebirth includes the Cordish Co.'s redevelopment of the Power Plant, with a Hard Rock Cafe and soon-to-open Barnes & Noble book and music emporium and ESPN Zone, as well as proposals to turn The Brokerage building into a retail and entertainment center.

"These are all things coming along in short time," Brodie said. "What you are going to get is a new vision of who is at the Inner Harbor. The next years for Harborplace will see a resurgence of local interest."

A pleased tenant

Already, Linda C. Kurpjuweit, who has sold all manner of hats from her shop, Hats in the Belfry, for the past 12 years, has seen a difference, from new tenants and partially completed renovations.

"They were badly needed," Kurpjuweit said.

She should know. She attributes periods of declining sales over the years to the loss of convention business before the convention center expansion and to the decline of office workers as companies moved out.

Since the opening of the Cheesecake Factory, she has noticed "more people walking around at night with desserts in hand," she said, adding that once Planet Hollywood opens, she expects a big boost to sales.

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