Harborplace, the 27-year-old centerpiece of Baltimore's renaissance, deserves more respect. Its latest indignity? The addition of 14 kiosks along the waterfront promenade offering the kind of fare more associated with Ocean City's boardwalk than a showcase urban park. Terrific for those in need of sunglasses and tanning lotion, appalling to all who expected the Inner Harbor's open-air aesthetics to be protected from such excesses.
When, oh when, will city government learn? The decision to permit Harborplace Associates Limited Partnership (the local affiliate of General Growth Properties, the firm that bought Rouse Co.) to add kiosks in front of the pavilions should have been reviewed by those who care passionately about the Inner Harbor's design and appearance.
But the decision by a senior city official to approve the kiosks under a profit-sharing agreement - a move endorsed by the city's Board of Estimates in April - was never reviewed by the panel that is supposed to advise the city on questions of design. Nor was it discussed with the new harbor-improvement group, the Waterfront Partnership, which was created, in part, to give a greater voice in such vital choices to business owners along the harbor.
This is not the first time the city has moved forward with a controversial choice for the Inner Harbor without first talking to stakeholders. Remember the unattractive (and pricey) visitors center that was built for the USS Constellation in the early 1990s? Surely that was a lesson in how the city should consider looks before anyone leaps.
City officials say General Growth has promised to evaluate the kiosks at summer's end. But there's certainly no guarantee they'll be removed. A contract is a contract no matter how much seller's remorse city officials may now be feeling.
All this could have been avoided, of course, if the mayor's office had simply run the idea of kiosks past the appropriate parties instead of making a decision unilaterally. It would be nice if the Board of Estimates were asking relevant questions, too. The Inner Harbor is too important and beautiful a city asset to be taken so lightly - or treated like some cluttered, overpriced, geegaw-hawking tourist trap.