Concert season at Pier Six: the bands are rocking, Inner Harbor cash registers are ka-chinging and, over in Federal Hill, Dick Leitch is cranking up the lullabies.
Leitch says the loud music at the Pier Six Concert Pavilion rattles his rowhouse windows about a half a mile away and keeps his 4-year-old daughter up at night - unless he drowns out the sound with a children's tape.
Noise from a concert the Baltimore City Health Department monitored last month exceeded the legal limit, said the department, which sent Pier Six a warning letter last week. But neighbors, who have complained since last year, say they're fed up but doubt anything will be done.
"We just finished up a mayoral campaign where `zero tolerance' was a big issue, and this is the most basic type of law, and we can't get anyone to enforce it," said Leitch, president of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association.
Health officials and concert organizers say they are working to resolve the matter, as is Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris, a Federal Hill resident who isn't commenting about whether the noise wakes his year-old son.
But the problem is a tricky one for a city bent on cultivating tourist attractions as well as livable residential zones. The concert noise may seem worse lately because sound is bouncing off a new, 32-story hotel being built near the pavilion, people on both sides of the issue say.
"City life has all kinds of advantages and disadvantages," said Bill Gilmore, executive director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion , which leases the city-owned pavilion.
"This office produces over 100 events a year," Gilmore said. "We do parades, we do fireworks. ... All of these activities re- quire some interruption - street closures, we have to bag parking meters. The Pier Six Concert Pavilion, it's been there for going on 20 years, and sound does emanate. "
Since last summer, Metropolitan Entertainment Group of Montclair, N.J., and the Cordish Co. of Baltimore have managed the pavilion under a contract with the city Office of Promotion.
But some neighbors, who say the noise worsened this year and last, suspect the new management has pumped up the volume.
"The guys making the decisions must live in the suburbs, which I'm considering," said Lana Robinson, who lives on Warren Avenue.
Metropolitan President John Scher said the group is trying to be a good neighbor while working to bring tourist dollars to the city. The series offers about 20 concerts a year from spring to fall. Each show draws an average of 3,500 people to the Inner Harbor, Scher said.
"What it's really all about is the common good," he said. "You have to have developers, entrepreneurs that are willing to have a dialogue, to find a happy medium for everybody. And that's certainly who we are."
The pavilion is more than a third of a mile from the heart of Federal Hill, and that's considerably farther from the stage than Little Italy. Buildings help buffer the noise before it gets to Little Italy. There's nothing but water between the pavilion and Federal Hill.
During a George Clinton concert May 31, health officials recorded noise levels ranging from 67.8 decibels to 92.4 decibels at the edge of the Pier Six property, according to a letter the department sent Thursday to Pier Six. The maximum sound level at the property line is 61 decibels. Seventy decibels is the point at which sound can damage hearing, according to the Health Department. The letter instructed Pier Six to correct the problem immediately.
Even before that warning, Gilmore said he had asked Metropolitan to come up with options for muting the noise, such as changing the type and direction of speakers, or using shrubs as a buffer.
To some residents, though, the solution seems as easy as twisting a dial. "I grew up with rock `n' roll. I understand. But turn it down," said Robinson, 46.
Organizers say they can't just turn the amplifiers down a notch or two and leave them there. How noise carries depends on weather conditions, like the direction in which the wind blows.
"It's not a simple solution of yelling up the steps to your kids to turn it down," Gilmore said.