Ice cream battleground

The scoop: The Rouse Co. and the Pride of Baltimore appear about to tangle over the sale of ice cream outside the Harborplace pavilions.

On The Promenade

March 26, 2004|By Tracy Swartz | Tracy Swartz,SUN STAFF

Rouse Co. officials want city leaders to crack down on vendors selling food and other items outside Rouse's Harborplace pavilions, setting the company on a collision course with one of the city's prominent symbols, the Pride of Baltimore II.

The owner of Harborplace and The Gallery is worried that the sale of premium ice cream at the city's good-will schooner's ticket kiosk could set a precedent for other harborside attractions, such as tour boats.

Rouse wants to eliminate all vending - including food and retail sales - at harborside ticket kiosks to protect its tenants from added competition.

"According to present regulations, vending is not allowed, and we're asking the city to do something about it," said Kent S. Digby, vice president and general manager of Harborplace. "We just don't want vending to start showing up everywhere."

But Pride of Baltimore Inc. officials say that loss of the revenue generated by ice cream sales could mean the vessel spends more time tied up in its home port rather than promoting trade and tourism.

"We may be forced to curtail Baltimore II's mission to sail forth to other ports," said Executive Director Linda E. Christenson. "Out of a $1 million budget, the revenue from our use of the kiosk is $100,000 at least."

The city Department of Recreation and Parks, which regulates vending permits, doesn't allow retail sales on the waterside walkway, which has kept most pushcart peddlers away. And Rouse has "exclusive vending rights" there, said parks spokesman Robert H. Greene.

Christenson said the Pride of Baltimore did not believe it needed an exception to vendor rules when it began selling Ben & Jerry's ice cream last year because it had long sold Pride memorabilia such as mugs and neckties at its kiosk, which was donated by the city in the 1970s. It did get a permit from the Health Department, she said.

Christenson said the group hoped to either be grandfathered in based on its longtime sale of souvenirs or be granted an exemption.

The vending issue first surfaced at a forum last month held by the Inner Harbor Task Force, a loosely organized group of city officials who oversee the harbor, as part of an effort to standardize harbor operations.

The meeting came five months after consultants reported that fragmented authority in the management of the Inner Harbor, the city's crown jewel, was resulting in lapses in rule enforcement, trash collection and permits.

At the forum, Digby was the only voice in favor of a vending ban. A number of harbor nonprofits told the task force that revenue from outside food sales was essential.

George L. Winfield, the city's public works director, said the city would review the matter but he was unsure when a decision would be made on whether nonprofits could sell on the promenade.

City regulations do not specify what department is responsible for enforcing the rules.

"We need to kind of bring this to a head," Winfield said. "We need to make the decision and bring everyone together on what the decision is going to be."

Tom T. Koch, vice chairman of the Pride's board, said the city tried to curb the Pride's ice cream sales last year. After Pride managers told city officials the kiosk generates much-needed revenue and represents the Pride in its home port while the ship is visiting elsewhere, the issue of food sales was laid aside - until last month, he said.

Koch said the Pride is trying to work out a compromise with Rouse in which the corporation would be one of the Pride's sponsors. The ship travels to cities with Rouse facilities such as New York, Boston and Philadelphia.

"They could become one of our sponsors, and we'd be partners as opposed to adversaries," Koch said.

But Digby is looking at the bigger issue. He said he appreciates attractions like the Pride of Baltimore that bring tourists to the city, but he doesn't want to open the promenade to any vending.

"We want to be extremely pro-active, supporting everything here at the harbor," Digby said. "But we don't want to see vending starting to pop up at the promenade."

Digby said Rouse is not seeking to stop sales from several organizations that have long-standing exceptions to city vending rules.

The National Aquarium has been selling food and drinks outside since the aquarium opened in 1981, spokeswoman Jenny Fiegel said. She said the aquarium has a city license to vend on Pier 3.

The U.S.S. Constellation Museum sells soda and ice cream from its ticket booth across from the Pratt Street pavilion. Christopher Rowsom, Constellation executive director, said the nonprofit organization got city approval when it began selling refreshments in 2001.

Food sales generate about $75,000 a year, which goes to ship maintenance and preservation.

"Our admissions just don't cover the cost of operation," Rowsom said. "It's extremely important that we find the resources for keeping the ship in its current condition."

Just across the promenade from the Constellation booth is Lee's ice cream, which operates shops in both harborside pavilions as well as the Gallery.

"It's competition," Lee's employee Charles Bowles said of outside vendors. "If they're selling ice cream - of course it's not going to be good for us."

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