A look at the world from Inner Harbor

Building: Despite post-Sept. 11 concerns, those in the city's World Trade Center feel safe. And you can't beat the scenery.

September 07, 2002|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

Jim Smith's office building doesn't have a parking garage, so he has to walk several blocks to work after finding a spot for his car.

Opened in 1977, the pentagonal, state-owned building, operated by the Maryland Port Administration, also lacks amenities that are common in more modern buildings.

But none of that matters to Smith -- and likely not to many of the building's other tenants. He works in the World Trade Center Baltimore. And it's hard to find a more appealing office building in the city.

"It's an older building," Smith said recently, as he sat in a board room on the ninth floor at Gebhardt & Smith, a law firm he helped found that has offices on floors eight through 10. "It doesn't have a lot of the amenities that the newer buildings have, like wiring for computers, parking and concierge services. But the view makes up for that."

No matter which floor you're on, or which window you peer through, the view from the World Trade Center Baltimore is spectacular.

There's the Inner Harbor with its paddleboats, ships, restaurants, shops and street entertainers. And in the distance, there is the Key Bridge. In other directions, there's the balloon that drifts above Port Discovery and the rambling cityscape of skyscrapers and rowhouses.

On a warm, sunny day when the Inner Harbor is bustling with pedestrians and the American flag across the water at Federal Hill Park is fluttering in the breeze, the view from the World Trade Center is like a postcard.

`No drawbacks'

"I just like being here," said Smith, 53, who has been in the building since its construction 25 years ago. "There was always something going on. I watched both aquariums being built, Harborplace being built. They used to land seaplanes between here and the Domino Sugar building. There are no drawbacks to being in this location."

When terrorists attacked New York's World Trade Center towers nearly a year ago, security at the nearly 60 World Trade Centers throughout the country was beefed up immediately, and Baltimore's was no exception.

The U.S. Coast Guard closed off the harbor initially. The area around the World Trade Center was cordoned off. White concrete barricades surrounded the brick plaza facing East Pratt Street. Four Army barges were docked in the harbor.

Also, private security guards were hired to inspect purses, backpacks and packages, and visitors were required to leave their drivers' licenses with guards, a practice still in place. Building tenants were required to wear identification badges.

However, probably the biggest change at Baltimore's World Trade Center, at least the one that seemed to affect the public most, was the closing of the observation level.

Known as The Top of the World and operated by the city, the deck was closed nearly seven months, from Sept. 11 until April 3. Officials said they lost an estimated $100,000 in ticket sales while the deck was closed.

There are 297 World Trade Centers throughout the world, said Robert DiChiara, vice president of the Washington-based World Trade Centers Association. The sizes of the buildings vary. The World Trade Center towers in New York were 110 stories tall each. In contrast, Baltimore's building is 30 stories tall.

Prestigious location

Baltimore's World Trade Center has tenants with businesses ranging from maritime to service industries to property management.

"The important thing about World Trade Centers and the thing that makes them different from other real estate projects is they're there to provide international trade and educational services to small businesses," DiChiara said. "A small business that never exported or imported can learn to do that at a World Trade Center."

Globally, about 750,000 businesses are affiliated with World Trade Centers, DiChiara said.

Robert B. Schulman, 55, an attorney with Schulman, Treem, Kaminkow, Gilden & Ravenell, has worked in Baltimore's World Trade Center since 1980, when the firm started with two attorneys. The office handles civil litigation, white-collar criminal defense and corporate law.

Not only is it great to work in one of the city's most notable buildings, Schulman said, but it also appeals to clients.

"The clients love coming here," Schulman said. "To them, it's probably the most prestigious address in Baltimore."

After Sept. 11, a few clients called to ask whether it was safe to enter the building, Schulman said.

"We assured them that we didn't think it would be a problem at all," he said, "and the calls stopped within a month."

Some people were not so easily assured. Jon McBride, chief technology officer for CorMed, which manages medical communities online, said that after Sept. 11 one employee was too afraid to continue working there.

"She actually called us and said, `I love you guys, but I'm not coming back up there,'" McBride said. "That was an immediate aftermath. She never changed her mind."

CorMed became a WTC tenant a few months before Sept. 11, McBride said. Even though he has worked there for more than a year, McBride said the view remains spectacular for him.

Best view

"It's easy to look out the window and become mesmerized by all that you see there," said McBride, 31. "As a matter of fact, I can see just enough into Camden Yards to see if the crowd is excited."

McBride said he doesn't worry about working in a building that carries the World Trade Center name.

Gira Shah, who is chief financial officer for International Oncology Network, admits having been fearful for a while.

"After the incident, yes, we were a little scared," said Shah, 40. "But I guess when you get involved with the work, you really don't worry about it."

Shah finds wearing an ID badge a nuisance.

Of course, tenants will deal with the badges, as long as they feel safe -- and apparently they do.

"The building is impregnable," Schulman said. "It has to be the safest building in Baltimore."

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