City structure without peer

Project: Officials invite developers to consider how to adapt the majestic, 88-year-old Recreation Pier building in Fells Point.

October 29, 2002|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

The long-closed doors to the great interior of the Recreation Pier building in Fells Point opened yesterday, letting at least 20 developers exercise their imagination in the 1914 waterfront building.

Walking around in the musty grandeur of the municipal ballroom, its ceiling soaring 30 feet, Joshua E. Neiman, the development director at Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, could almost hear music playing.

"I bet there were big-band dances," he said. "Whether Glenn Miller played here, I don't know."

Baltimore officials invited developers to visit yesterday as a first step toward receiving proposals to adapt the brick and Indiana limestone structure on Thames Street for new uses.

Most recently used as the main set of the 1990s TV crime drama Homicide: Life on the Street, the building, 85 feet by 145 feet, once housed the harbormaster's office and provided space for activities such as dancing.

"It's an incredibly dynamic building," Neiman said. "We need to do some brainstorming."

Struever Bros. likely would rely on using historic tax credits if it makes a commercial redevelopment proposal to city officials, he said, as it often does in other projects.

A representative from Manekin LLC, Stephen P. Gilbert Sr., said the building holds continued filmmaking potential.

"I know Fells Point like the back of my hand, and I can see a film presence which meshes with Fells Point and uses the waterfront as a facility," he said.

A gazebo might make a nice addition to the site, he said, for residents and visitors to enjoy the waterfront panorama.

Fells Point community leaders attended the meeting to hear the developers' intentions and add a few of their own.

"You can imagine a wedding out on [the pier] deck," said Bob Keith, suggesting one way that public access could be preserved. "This is the heart of the community."

"We don't want anyone doing something dumb, like offices and parking structures," added Keith, who has served on a Fells Point task force committee on the Recreation Pier.

Lori Guess, chairwoman of that committee, said yesterday that most residents had long accepted that the city was not going to keep and shore up the aged property, battered enough to need pier repairs that could cost up to $4 million.

"We have to talk about reality rather than pie-in-the-sky," Guess said. "The most important thing is a use with public access, and not a megabar. Preserving the facade is crucial. And we'll have to give up something to get something."

The site, which was designed for mixed uses - among them, unloading cargo and as a place for immigrants to take English lessons - should remain so, she said.

"We'd like to keep the ballroom, with its great charm," Guess said.

Neiman was receptive to the community's views.

"We'd like to meet the goal of public use, for the community and Baltimore in general," he said.

Robert F. Pipik, director of asset management for the city's housing and community development department, said the recreation pier building is a classic example of how burgeoning cities looked for ways to combine economic, civic and recreational uses.

"It was a pretty brilliant solution," Pipik said. "Now we need a new formula."

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