City plans trade mission to sister cities in Egypt

Inner Harbor-style plan pondered for Alexandria

April 12, 2004|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

The Egyptian port city of Alexandria boasts ancient ruins, teeming bazaars and beautiful beaches. One thing it lacks is an Inner Harbor like Baltimore's.

Not that the city of Cleopatra and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina needs Hooters or Barnes & Noble. But leaders there are said to be interested in building a world-class aquarium and other attractions to capitalize on their waterfront.

Baltimore hopes to help its Egyptian sister city do that when a delegation organized by City Hall travels there this month.

"The Alexandria waterfront is in need of substantial revitalization not that differently from what was experienced back in the '70s in Baltimore," said Peter Chermayeff, the Boston-based architect of Baltimore's National Aquarium, who also designed aquariums in Boston; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Osaka, Japan; Lisbon, Portugal; and, as part of a collaboration, in Genoa, Italy.

"We could make such a contribution in Egypt," he said. "We could be creating an institution that could be a leading force in environmental education and economic development."

Chermayeff is one of 18 people who will be traveling to Egypt from April 20 to 29 on what Baltimore officials are calling a trade mission. The trip is meant to be the first of many to build on sister cities relationships, adding business development to a link that until now has been mostly cultural and educational, said Clarence T. Bishop, Mayor Martin O'Malley's chief of staff.

"We do live in a global economy and we ought to take advantage of that, even on the local level," Bishop said. "Other large cities - New York, Chicago, specifically - do this kind of thing all the time, on a large scale. We need to start moving in that direction."

Neither O'Malley nor Bishop will take part in the trip, which will also take participants to Baltimore's other Egyptian sister city, Luxor, as well as Cairo. The delegation will meet with Egyptian government officials and business leaders, to whom they will pitch potential business deals in a variety of fields.

Among those making the trip are Baltimoreans who work in financial services and banking, information management, energy and environmental technologies, medicine and nursing.

Three city employees will take part. The cost of their travel - $2,500 per person - is being covered by donations from private companies, including M&T Bank Corp., said Judy Orlinsky, the city's director of international affairs. She will lead the trip.

The other participants from the city are Bill Gilmore, executive director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts, and Jay L. Baker, O'Malley's official photographer.

"It should be a pretty fascinating trip," said Orlinsky, widow of the late City Council President Walter S. Orlinsky. "All of this is to benefit Baltimore ultimately, and how could it not?"

Abdelwahab Elabd, a chemist and chairman of the Baltimore-Luxor-Alexandria Sister Cities Committee, said Egypt presents myriad opportunities for Baltimore businesses, especially in the field of financial services. And Egyptian leaders have a particular interest in remaking the port of Alexandria into something like Baltimore's Inner Harbor, he said.

"Cruises, they stop in Alexandria and right away there is a bus to take them to Cairo," he said. "It's very dull. Like Harborplace 25 years ago."

The delegation will present materials showing how Baltimore's waterfront was transformed from a collection of rotting piers into a large tourist destination. Chermayeff, the aquarium architect, said he will make a pitch to lead a similar makeover for Alexandria, albeit with a different mix of retail and restaurants.

"One of the important points for me is, we're not exporting America," Chermayeff said. "We're thinking of doing something as thoughtful Americans that is utterly Egyptian. It's about being advisers from America that can make something happen that belongs in Egypt. It's for them ultimately."

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