Observation deck reopens at World Trade Center

Harbor attraction was closed to public since Sept. 11

April 04, 2002|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

The 27th-level observation deck of Baltimore's World Trade Center reopened to the public yesterday for the first time since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, but with heightened security and reduced hours.

The Top of the World observation deck had been closed while public officials hammered out a security plan and waited for visitors to overcome any reluctance to visit.

"We needed to make sure it was safe and we needed to make sure people wouldn't be afraid to come up," said Bill Gilmore, executive director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts, the agency that manages the observation deck. "We did a survey and found that people were ready."

Although there had been talk of installing metal detectors or X-ray machines, the final security changes were minimal. Private guards were hired to check purses, backpacks and packages. Visitors to other parts of the state-owned World Trade Center have to sign in and leave their driver's licenses with guards.

Visitors to the 27th floor yesterday, who came from as far away as Germany, said they welcomed the security enhancement.

"They can check anything they want to," said Jim Johnson, a Virginia Beach police officer who had come with his family. "It's the right thing to do. If someone doesn't like it, they shouldn't come."

The observation level, which was open daily before the attacks, will be cut back to a five-day week during off-season months to save money and operate more efficiently.

Until May 26, the deck will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. From Memorial Day through Labor Day - peak season - the deck will be open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The Wednesday-through-Sunday schedule will resume after Labor Day, through Oct. 31. The observation deck will be available for rent November to March.

The promotions office lost about $100,000 in ticket sales while the deck was closed, Gilmore said. Gilmore said he was concerned that the revenue from Top of the World might not be enough to pay for the new measures, but admission prices have not been raised.

Tickets remain at $4 for adults, $3 for seniors and $2 for children. Attendance at the observation deck has fluctuated from a low of 3,000 in winter months to a high of 22,000 in the months of June, July and August.

Gilmore said the group will monitor the impact of the new security measures.

Yesterday's reopening was purposely low-key as the office of promotion attempted to ease back to normal operations. An official grand reopening celebration with entertainment will be held April 13.

Many of the visitors were families on spring break who stopped by the observation deck while visiting other attractions at the Inner Harbor.

Rick Neill and his family were surprised to find the observation deck closed Tuesday. Yesterday, he and his wife, Virginia, daughter Victoria and son Ricky came back. The family, in Baltimore on a two-day trip from New Jersey, said Americans can't let the terrorist attacks stop them from enjoying life.

"It's important for attractions like this to remain open," Rick Neill said. "It's important for people to get back to life."

Tourism officials said they were relieved about the reopening. The Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association uses the deck to give business clients, meeting planners and other guests a broad view of the city.

"We're excited that it's back because it's a great tool for us to use in a number of different ways," said Carroll R. Armstrong, president and chief executive officer of the association.

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