Success may kill unique Inner Harbor

Planning needed: Without thoughtful blueprint, basin may become obstacle course.

November 19, 1999

The Museum of Industry is such a valuable guardian of Baltimore's industrial heritage that any talk about its expansion is gratifying. Particularly because one of the nation's last remaining World War II Liberty ships would get a more accessible berth along Key Highway.

Yet the recently announced plans are troubling as well: Included in the $8.5 million project is a new 500-foot pier sticking into the Inner Harbor.

This proposed pier may be a good idea. Or it may not. Surrounding property owners are certainly up in arms because it would block their views of the harbor, reducing the resale value of their industrially-zoned land.

The pier plan illustrates a more fundamental problem: For the past eight years no one has been in charge of planning for the Inner Harbor.

Things just tend to happen. One day it is Bubba Gump, an ill-advised fake shrimp boat restaurant that apparently has sunk for good, the next it's the John W. Brown, a well-deserving relic of Baltimore's shipbuilding prowess literally under the gun. These proposals keep cropping up without a public approval process or hearings.

"How the harbor is developed and redeveloped should be subject to some public scrutiny. This, after all, is the engine of the only new industry the city has developed since World War II," says Ed Kane, owner of Water Taxi. We agree.

Martin J. O'Malley should add the Inner Harbor to his list of priorities when he becomes mayor Dec. 7. The waterway needs urgent high-level attention.

Agenda item: Silting is becoming so serious it may prevent Baltimore from hosting events that bring in big visitors like the Amerigo Vespucci, the celebrated Italian tall ship.

Agenda item: As shoreline development has intensified and more piers have been added, the Inner Harbor's water surface has decreased.

It has diminished by about 15 percent just since the construction ofHarborplace and its embankments. No further filling should be considered without compelling reason and public airing of the plans.

The Inner Harbor is the city's leading tourist attraction. It's too precious to be squandered.

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