Schmoke, O'malley Saw Water's Potential

July 07, 2009|By Edward Gunts

The push for intense development along the water's edge can be traced largely to the administrations of Kurt L. Schmoke and Martin O'Malley, who recognized the water's ability to draw businesses of all kinds.

From the 1960s to the 1990s, the city had strong restrictions on waterfront development. Its master plan called for low- and mid-rise buildings close to the water and taller buildings several blocks inland, a strategy that limited the amount of new construction along the water's edge.

Starting in the 1990s, some of those restrictions were lifted for Harbor East, where the renewal plan has been amended several times to allow tall buildings to rise close to the waterfront, as opposed to several blocks inland. Zoning and preservation controls were subsequently changed to permit large office buildings on parcels in Canton and Fells Point that had previously been zoned for industrial use.

Former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke helped set the eastward progression in motion in the 1990s when he supported plans to build a large "convention headquarters" hotel at Harbor East, even though it was one mile east of Baltimore's Convention Center.

More changes occurred during the administration of Martin O'Malley, who supported waiving building height restrictions and loosening other controls on construction in the name of playing to the city's strengths, including the revitalized waterfront.

The earliest master plans for the Inner Harbor didn't anticipate the strong demand from people interested in living and working directly on the waterfront, but the latest wave of development shows how strong it is, said Laurie Schwartz, executive director of the Waterfront Partnership. "That's where the market wants to be."

If a prime waterfront parcel can help encourage a global asset manager such as Legg Mason to stay in the city, it's worth using for that purpose, argues M. Jay Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., the quasi-public agency that oversees downtown development.

Brodie said he intends to use the Legg Mason Tower to show representatives of other companies that are contemplating moves to Baltimore what kind of views and surroundings they can have.

"I think it is arguably the most beautiful contemporary building in the region," Brodie said of the tower. From the inside, "you get a sense of intimacy, a sense that you can almost reach out and touch Federal Hill and Little Italy. You get this wonderful combination of old Baltimore and new Inner Harbor East."

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