Work in Progress

Telling the world of Baltimore's harbor

Former journalist, developer Martin Millspaugh's documentary gives history of city's waterfront

January 27, 2008|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun architecture critic

Martin Millspaugh has devoted much of his life to the revitalization of downtown Baltimore - as a journalist, public official, private developer and planning consultant. He was one of those who helped turn its waterfront from a collection of rotting piers and banana boats into today's Inner Harbor - a world-class setting for attractions such as Harborplace, the Maryland Science Center and the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

At an age when others might be enjoying a leisurely retirement, Millspaugh is working on a television documentary that enables him to share what has been learned with others.

The documentary, called Global Harbors, is an hourlong program for public television that will tell the story of Baltimore's renaissance, from 1954 to the present, and how Baltimore has become a model for the revitalization of other port cities around the world.

It combines archival films and photos with new filming, including dozens of interviews. It's the first foray into television for Millspaugh, a former Evening Sun reporter and former chief executive of Charles Center-Inner Harbor Management Inc. He lives in North Baltimore with his wife, Meredith.

IN HIS OWN WORDS --Global Harbors is a 60-minute documentary that will describe the international waterfront development experience, highlighting the story of Baltimore's Inner Harbor, which has been a model for other cities around the world. The first part will describe the Baltimore renaissance, which started in the 1950s with Charles Center and then moved to the Inner Harbor in the 1960s, turning the shoreline into a playground for Baltimoreans. Then it will show how Baltimore became a model for other port cities in the 1980s and 1990s. I've counted something like 90 to 100 cities that were influenced in one way or another by the Baltimore model.

COUNTERING MISCONCEPTIONS --The people who are alive now know what they see, but they don't always know what has gone before. This is an effort to tell the complete story, starting with the closing of O'Neill's department store just before Christmas in 1954, and the formation of a Committee for Downtown, which raised private funds for a master plan to halt the decline of property values and rebuild the heart of the city. The whole story has never been told in one place.

HOW IT BEGAN --The basis for the documentary is a slide talk I've given over the years to people when they come to Baltimore [to learn about its waterfront transformation.] A committee was formed and brought in award-winning professional producers, Cari Stein and Kim Skeen of Ivy Media LLC. A nonprofit corporation, Global Harbors Documentary Inc., was created to raise money for the production. It has been in the works for almost three years. The main filming has been done, and it's in the last stages of production. They are shooting to get it on the air in the spring or summer of this year. It will air on Maryland Public Televlsion, and MPT will make it available to other public television stations.

TELLING THE STORY --I was a reporter for The Evening Sun covering urban renewal in the 1950s - from 1953 to 1957 - when [Philadelphia-based architect] David Wallace was hired to lead the planning effort. At the start of the Greater Baltimore Committee in 1955, I was covering the story. It was an exciting time.

WHY BALTIMORE? --Baltimore is a model because the Inner Harbor setting was ideal and the people who were there were ready to throw themselves into it with enthusiasm. There has been a constantly changing lineup of leadership over the years, including 10 different mayors, city department heads, CEOs, university leaders. People from all walks of life were able to make it happen. Every time a new hurdle or challenge came up, the right person seemed to emerge to solve it.

NO CLONES --Part of our message is that each waterfront development has to be an expression of the culture of its city. We can't reproduce clones of Baltimore. We can't do it for them. But there are some common principles, and people are still coming to see how it happened here. In recent months, we've had visitors or queries from Belfast; Seoul; Belarus [formerly part of Russia]; Tangier, Morocco; Porto Alegre, Brazil; Bulgaria and Uganda. The word is still spreading.

ed.gunts@baltsun.com

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