Get on board for a gondola flight to Fells Point

January 04, 2007|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Sun Columnist

So now there's talk of building a ski-lift-style gondola system that would whisk visitors high above the Inner Harbor and out to Fells Point, turning Baltimore into the Aspen of the East, only with less snow and more panhandlers.

My first reaction is: Hey, not a bad idea.

Then I close my eyes and envision some drunk falling out of the gondola and splashing down in the harbor, and when they finally fish him out and pound on his chest and revive him, there's a lawyer standing over him holding out a business card and whispering: "You should think about compensation for what you've been through."

But they laughed at the Wright brothers when they first proposed flying their rickety little airplane at Kitty Hawk. So they'll probably laugh at the Winstead brothers, Trey and Peter, who came up with the idea for the gondola system and propose charging $7 for a seven-minute ride, according to John Fritze's story the other day in The Sun.

Look, who knows if this is all a pipe dream?

Who knows if the thing will ever be built?

It took 100 years for the geniuses who run this town to come up with something to stick out in front of Penn Station. And then they settled on that Man-Woman-One-Heart monstrosity, or whatever they call it, and people all over town thought: We waited forever for that?!

But me, I see all this gondola talk as a plus for Baltimore.

Look, this is a town that last received national publicity because someone was going around stealing light poles from major thoroughfares a couple of years ago.

Remember this heartwarming story?

Someone was actually backing up a big utility truck -- often in broad daylight -- and hacking down these huge 30-foot light poles and carting them off.

And they didn't just steal one or two of them, either.

No, they stole at least 130 of them.

I don't know how many light poles there are in Baltimore. But when you steal 130 of them, you're involved in a little more than petty theft, right?

In terms of making money, you've got something more than a little sidewalk lemonade stand going on.

But the police never caught them!

In fact, half the time, the police didn't even know the light poles were missing.

All this happened to coincide with the city's search for a new marketing slogan, leading me to propose this one -- which I still think is a winner: "Baltimore: Is it me, or is it dark around here?"

Anyway, compared with the light-pole thefts, the buzz over the gondola system is a total publicity home run for the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association.

Besides, it's got to liven up things at the Inner Harbor.

Look, how many times are you going to watch the sea turtles float by at the aquarium or tour the USS Torsk before you get bored?

How many times can you pay for overpriced Buffalo wings and stare at an Eric Clapton guitar at the Hard Rock Cafe without feeling there's more to life?

But careening 95 feet above open water in a gondola, clutching your family and shrieking when a sudden lightning storm hits?

Now that's excitement.

The only problem I have with the gondola idea is that it doesn't address the eternal No. 1 problem for downtown visitors, which is, of course, parking.

And the parking situation gets worse every year.

You talk about something that makes you want to shriek.

Ever tried to park near the Inner Harbor on a nice weekend in the spring, summer or fall?

Good luck. It's a nightmare.

No. 1, you can't find a parking space on the streets, unless you want to park somewhere on The Block and leave your car amid all the solid citizens coming and going there.

And No. 2, if you do find a parking space in a garage or a lot, it costs you an arm and a leg.

These parking attendants, they should just hold a knife to your throat and be done with it when they charge you 25 bucks to park.

So here's the quandary for the city fathers who might someday approve of gondola lifts snaking high above the Inner Harbor.

You can sink millions of dollars into this baby and create the greatest gondola system around.

You can pretend you're building some kind of Vail-on-the-Chesapeake here.

But visitors won't be able to ride it unless they find a place to park their car.

Preferably under a light pole that hasn't been carted away.

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