Group seeks to maintain harbor as city jewel

Study recommends ways to improve how it's run

October 30, 2003|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's Inner Harbor - the crown jewel that has attracted millions of visitors and has been a vital engine for development in recent decades - is in urgent need of rescue, business leaders warned yesterday.

"Neglect has begun to be apparent in several areas," said a report titled "Managing Baltimore's Inner Harbor Operations," which was prepared by the Greater Baltimore Committee, the region's most prominent organization of business and civic leaders.

"This important asset is inherently fragile, and can easily deteriorate in a surprisingly short time," the group cautioned. "The huge economic and cultural benefits to the city can quickly disappear."

The study, prepared by an Inner Harbor Management Task Force, was delivered to Mayor Martin O'Malley together with a proposal that a new quasi-governmental agency be established to manage the harbor's day-to-day operations and manage its future.

Management inadequacies noted in the report include:

Erosion of a 30-year-old master plan into more than a half-dozen urban renewal plans that apply to Inner Harbor areas.

Poor and inadequate general maintenance of harbor facilities, including walkways, fountains, landscaping, lighting and signage.

Lack of written standards and of a permitting process for proposed uses and new structures.

Lack of transit and vehicular access to the Inner Harbor.

Lack of coordination between city officials, the Maryland Port Administration and other government agencies.

"Development often appears to be driven and determined with a primary focus on the immediate economic return on every inch of ground rather than the potential value a project might bring to the entire harbor," said the authors. "Immediate attention must be given to the harbor and its challenges if it is to continue as a top attraction and premier landmark of the city."

Management of the Inner Harbor is loosely coordinated by an informal task force of city agencies without a designated staff, standards, responsibilities or authority, according to the study, which called the arrangement "disjointed, fragmented and ineffective."

"It was a feeling among many that the harbor, being a tremendous asset of the city, was not getting the attention it needed, and it was hard to know who in city government was in charge of the harbor," said Donald C. Fry, president of the GBC, whose members include corporate leaders with operations in and around the harbor. "How are we going to make sure that the harbor maintained a vibrant, vital part of our economic growth? You don't want it to lose its luster."

"It's an overdue idea," said Alfred W. Barry, a planning and development consultant. "It sounds like GBC should be commended for taking it on. Management and maintenance issues don't happen by default. So if no one is managing them, things can deteriorate very quickly."

Barry has pointed to the Pratt Street towers near the harbor, which block views and reduce values for the rest of downtown, and Lombard Street, which has become a service alley for Pratt Street with little vibrancy, as issues during discussion of revisions to the Inner Harbor Master Plan.

"It seems like the city has from time to time paid attention to repairing walkways, for instance, but there's an aspect of the harbor between the Science Center and Harborplace that's really a no man's land," he said yesterday. "It's not very well landscaped. One thing you did notice over time is how certain things would appear ... and you'd wonder how they got there." He noted the carousel and Japanese bells from a sister city as examples.

Martin L. Millspaugh, who helped guide the original harbor development effort as head of the predecessor agency to the Baltimore Development Corp., said he thinks the GBC's proposal "makes a lot of sense."

Millspaugh, vice chairman of Enterprise Real Estate Services Inc. in Columbia, was founder of one of the groups that became BDC, Charles Center-Inner Harbor Management Inc.

That group governed a 300-acre area that covered the main horseshoe of the Inner Harbor, covering roughly from the Rusty Scupper to President Street. The area was formally bounded by Saratoga Street on the north, Russell Street on the west, Key Highway on the south and President Street on the east, he said.

In contrast, the GBC group used a much broader interpretation of the now-expanded harbor, one that includes Tide Point on the south shore and reaches as far as Canton.

"We had a focus of responsibility," Millspaugh said. "When we got up in the morning, we had no other thought in mind than to make sure the Inner Harbor worked. The GBC concluded that the focus of interest and responsibility really doesn't exist now. It makes it difficult for the city to control what happens there."

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