Waterfront's high season

Inner Harbor: Festivals, National Seaport tour package hope to lure visitors to Baltimore's shoreline.

April 29, 1999

BALTIMORE'S high tourism season kicks off todaywith the four-day Waterfront Festival. That will be followed by Preakness Week (May 7 through May 15) and other crowd events, including summer-long celebrations of the city's ethnic mosaic.

Meanwhile, 14 top Inner Harbor attractions -- ranging from museum ships to Fort McHenry -- are being marketed under the banner of the National Historic Seaport of Baltimore. A $15.75 ticket (for adults, $10.50 for children) includes transportation by water taxi. When the USS Constellation returns to its berth at Pratt Street on July 2 after its $9 million restoration, the 1854 sloop of war will become the centerpiece of the self-guided itinerary.

The National Historic Seaport is a great concept. The question now is how it will be further developed by its initiator, the Living Classrooms Foundation. The various maritime attractions -- from Lightship Chesapeake to Steam Tug Baltimore -- are somewhat static and unlikely to draw repeat visitors unless they can be made more exciting through interpretive means, including sounds and action.

Overall, the waterfront should be made more lively. Water taxi operator Ed Kane suggests that regularly scheduled flag ceremonies be held in some currently unused part of the shoreline. That way Baltimore could develop its equivalent of Mallory Square, where Key West residents and visitors to Florida gather each night at sunset.

Major changes are taking place in the Inner Harbor. The Department of Public Works is part of a $14.2 million program to upgrade bulkheads and promenades. It also intends to reconfigure the piers along the Light Street shoreline. A visitors center is also planned.

The success of such Power Plant attractions as ESPN Zone, the Hard Rock Cafe and Barnes & Noble has spread Inner Harbor crowds eastward. The National Seaport package extends tourist action all around the harbor.

From here, the challenge is to further increase the daytime draw of such popular evening destinations as Canton and Fells Point, where a visitors center is opening as a prelude to a maritime museum that will be completed next year.

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