Port Covington has potential that has not been tapped

August 20, 2005|By JACQUES KELLY

THE OTHER morning I was on a No. 64 bus heading toward Brooklyn. This is not a line I normally take, and I found myself attracted by its loop through Port Covington, a part of the city that sits about a mile or more below Federal Hill.

Intrepid shoppers know it as the location of the city's Wal-Mart and Sam's Club. Not far is The Sun's big white printing plant.

As a I child, I knew the Port Covington property as a sprawling Western Maryland Railway port terminal, but that's history. I've also heard the stories and seen the pictures of old rowing clubs that once dotted the shoreline on this section of the Patapsco River. Because the land is so flat here, you don't immediately recognize Port Covington as the amazing waterfront property that it is.

In the past 35 years, Baltimore has done a first-rate job in turning its former seaport-harbor real estate into sites for housing and offices. Like other American cities, we faltered in the 1950s and '60s with misguided urban renewal schemes that tore down much too much valuable architecture.

We recovered nicely with the harbor, beginning at Pratt and Light streets, working east to Fells Point and Canton. What were lost along the harbor were old piers and railroad lines, the small freighters and tankers that called there.

While the bus was making its way through Port Covington, which was rather hurriedly and haphazardly planned as a shopping center, it seemed to me that something was wrong. The two discount stores do not seem particularly happy here.

My father, Joe Kelly, who grew up in South Baltimore and always loved the old harbor of the steamboats and little trains, is adamant about Port Covington. He feels it's one of the best city locations - in terms of broad and expansive water views - that has yet to be exploited, in the best sense of that word. Instead of big stores, he thinks in terms of a waterfront restaurant.

The early industrial Baltimore of the metal works, breweries, slaughterhouses, fertilizer plants, glass factories and brickyards has passed, and now's a good time to consider replacements.

A friend of mine, a city planner, feels that Port Covington should become another Village of Cross Keys, and an entire new residential neighborhood that would be convenient to Interstate 95 and other highways and the rest of the city too. Brilliant idea.

We need to get past the thought contamination that just because a place was once a railroad siding that it will be marked by this association. And let's face it, how many of us know anything about Port Covington?

It'll take a while to get thoughts together and land assembled to build a whole new neighborhood at Port Covington. But it can be done. And, for my vote, I'd rather see a new community here than have one more acre of Maryland countryside plowed up.

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