Forum on Recreation Pier set for today

Fells Point community to hear five proposals for building's redevelopment

April 26, 2003|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Businesses and residents of Fells Point will get their first detailed look today at proposals to renovate the once-majestic Recreation Pier, all of which have officials of the community's trademark tugboat fleet worried about its future there.

"Tugboats are part of the Fells Point aura," said Paul P. Swensen, general manager of Moran Towing Corp., which bases its tugs at the pier. "I don't think any of the proposals address the concerns of Fells Point residents who want to maintain the historic value of the Recreation Pier."

Five developers will present their proposals for the building today during an open house in the ballroom of the pier, which is at the foot of Thames Street.

The 1914 brick waterfront building, where thousands of immigrants learned English, now sits empty and in need of repair. It has been shuttered since the television drama Homicide: Life on the Street - which used it for filming and office space - was canceled.

Eager to find a private owner with new uses for the pier, city officials issued a "request for qualifications" in the fall asking for proposals. Five were submitted by the Feb. 28 deadline.

Three of the proposals call for apartments or condominiums; another proposes an outdoor amusement park; and a fifth proposes a hotel.

Today's forum, which begins at 9 a.m., is being held by the Fells Point Task Force committee on the Recreation Pier, a volunteer group led by Lori Guess.

"We're looking for somewhere between the ideal and reality," Guess said. "You cannot leave the building to lie fallow like that."

A government contracts lawyer and a Fells Point resident, Guess said residents have many questions about the proposals. Primarily, she said, the community is skeptical of residential housing as the best way to re-use what was designed as a grand civic facility with an airy ballroom.

"A big part of Saturday will be the three residential developers trying to sell that [idea] to the community," Guess said.

Another question likely to surface is how the commercial tugboat operation stationed there would be affected by the proposals, most of which also include a berth for the Pride of Baltimore II clipper ship.

The Moran company, which has operated at the pier since 1967, recently signed a 15-year lease with the city, which the city said it intends to honor. But Moran is concerned about how its noisy, 24-hour operation would coexist with luxury homes and pleasure craft.

"I don't know how someone enjoying breakfast with orange juice and The New York Times and Baltimore Sun is going to like hearing our tugs first thing in the morning," Swensen said.

In a fact sheet the company has distributed, it raises concerns about the security of its tugs and preserving truck access and parking for the crews. Also, it notes, the tugs are heavy and "are not meant to dance around yachts" or water taxis.

City officials said a decision is expected next month on the five Recreation Pier proposals.

Robert F. Pipik, director of asset management for the city's Department of Housing and Community Development, said today's meeting would be a critical opportunity to have an exchange

"This is the one chance for the community to meet with the developers," Pipik said.

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