A new blueprint for harbor

April 08, 2002

BALTIMORE IS about to revise its badly outdated 1989 Inner Harbor master plan, and already controversy rages. And no wonder, because a technical advisory panel's draft:

Favors Canton as the location of a proposed cruise ship terminal.

Rejects the Museum of Industry along Key Highway as the mooring site for the SS John W. Brown, the restored Liberty ship.

Outlaws the use of sightseeing seaplanes near the choked Inner Harbor.

Puts strict limits on new marinas, floating structures and bridges that have been eating up navigable surface, creating a potential safety hazard.

But all these recommendations are sound. Unless brakes are applied, the Inner Harbor may be strangled by its very success.

"We have no vision for the Baltimore harbor at this point because the master plan is so outdated," explains Beth Strommen, a planner who coordinated the review process. "In the harbor, it's not the number of boats that is the problem, it's the lack of space."

The draft's common-sense recommendations would bring order to the current boating anarchy, and the blueprint invites decision-makers to look beyond the Inner Harbor for future expansion - to places such as the underused Middle Branch.

Although the public hasn't had a chance to comment on the proposal yet, the draft has already set an important chain of events in motion. For example, negotiations are underway to relocate the John W. Brown to a pier next to Fort McHenry, a wonderful site that would give the Baltimore-built ship the prominence it richly deserves.

These are not matters that City Hall can decide on its own, but the master plan is acting as a catalyst, guiding growth and development. That is the role a successful plan must play.

The blueprint also addresses the thorny question of the Inner Harbor's day-to-day management. Currently, an unwieldy committee of city department heads is trying to manage that job, but its members lack the expertise and time to do the task properly.

The master plan draft calls for re-establishing a powerful harbor master as the chief administrator, overseeing other officials such as the Fells Point dock master.

This is another long-overdue change that would lessen the considerable confusion that currently reigns at Baltimore's chief tourism magnet.

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