Upgrading after visit by Isabel

Henderson's Wharf adds amenities during cleanup

May 25, 2004|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

It seemed at first to be not much more than a passing storm.

But the water kept coming and within 12 hours it was nearly 3 feet deep throughout the first floor of Henderson's Wharf, a Fells Point marina, inn and apartment complex.

That was in September, when Tropical Storm Isabel barreled up the East Coast and triggered a surprise tidal surge in Baltimore's Inner Harbor that shut down businesses and left a soggy mess.

Henderson's Wharf, with rooms just feet from the harbor, was one of the businesses hardest hit. After eight months of renovations, it recently reopened for business.

The inn filled its first six rooms May 17 and was booked to capacity by the end of that first week.

The 130 rental apartments at Henderson's Wharf survived Isabel. But the storm poured water through the first floor, where all the hotel rooms are located, destroying every piece of furniture in the process.

Rather than buckle in to the destruction, the owners of the hotel, a renovated historic B&O Railroad tobacco warehouse, decided to do $4.3 million in upgrades.

"We've taken advantage of it and made some improvements," said Weston Robison, the general manager. "We decided it was our opportunity to fulfill our wish list."

The owners installed wireless Internet access. LCD TVs, dry bars and pillowtop mattresses were added to each room. In the lounge area, a coffee bar was built and breakfast hutch added.

By the end of June, the hotel is to have finished a second stage of upgrades that will include turn-down service, satellite television service, and private phone and fax service in each room.

Isabel struck Maryland with high winds and heavy rain that caused flooding across the state and hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage.

It knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of residents, closed the Bay Bridge and caused cancellation of all flights for a while at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Much of Fells Point, including Thames and Wolfe streets, was flooded, as was the north side of the Inner Harbor. Much of the Pratt Street Pavilion walkway at Harborplace was beneath water, and the flooding destroyed the electrical systems in the basement of the World Trade Center.

Water also surged over the seawall at City Dock in Annapolis and destroyed much of the Havre de Grace boardwalk at the head of the Chesapeake Bay.

Robison said it didn't take long to realize the impact of the storm was more than they were prepared for.

"Towels we had ready to stuff under the door were a joke," Robison said last week while standing in the inn's renovated lobby. Employees also tried to use a dry vac but quickly figured out that was useless, too.

The water begin to seep into the building about 1:30 a.m. Sept. 19, Robison said. It finally receded at 3 p.m.

About 10 out-of-town patrons sat in the lobby with the staff throughout the night, expecting the flooding to stop any minute.

Instead, it rose 3 feet.

Luggage racks and small pieces of furniture floated in the water. Just the tips of plants in the outdoor courtyard were above the water. A Mercedes-Benz outside the hotel was submerged, and a trash bin had floated down the street and landed on top of it.

A small dock outside was nearly vertical, and the promenade was at a 45 degree angle.

"We learned quickly the power of water," said Nancy Worcester, director of sales and marketing for Henderson's Wharf.

When it was all over, almost nothing was salvageable. The lower half of walls had to be replaced and the wood floors torn up. Every piece of furniture was taken out.

Only the outdoor courtyard tables and chairs were kept, but they had to be sanitized and refurbished.

It took three weeks just to decontaminate the first floor. Rebuilding it was begun Jan. 5.

In hindsight, Robison said, he wishes he'd had more flood insurance. But there's not much else they could have done, he said.

"I've been through a couple of hurricanes, but never anything like this," he said. "It was a hoot, and it made quite a mess."

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