Baltimore seeks new attractions for the Inner Harbor

BDC is 'testing the market' for ideas to draw visitors starting this summer

February 25, 2011|By Edward Gunts, The Baltimore Sun

Would you like to ride a zip line high above Baltimore's Inner Harbor? Take a miniature train trip near the water's edge? Climb a rock wall near Rash Field?

You might be able to do just that starting this summer, if the city accepts ideas being floated for adding new activities to the Inner Harbor.

The Baltimore Development Corp. is seeking proposals from developers and others interested in leasing city-owned property around the Inner Harbor to add outdoor attractions for visitors of all ages. The city's quasi-public development arm wants attractions that would provide "high-quality amusement, entertainment, educational, cultural and other positive experiences," according to a notice put out Friday.

M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the development corporation, said the city isn't looking for major projects but attractions that could be put in place relatively quickly and help create a "buzz." Officials want the attractions to be open at least from April 1 to Oct. 31, and they are not looking for vendors to sell food or merchandise. The deadline for proposals is April 8.

"We're testing the market," Brodie said. "We want people to give us ideas."

The request for proposals comes nearly two years after the BDC last sought ideas for Inner Harbor attractions and received a wide range of suggestions, from a miniature golf course to a Ferris wheel to a traveling exhibit featuring items from the Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum. The agency was considering replacing the vintage Herschell-Spillman hand-carved carousel near the Maryland Science Center.

Several months after the ideas were presented in the fall of 2009, then-Mayor Sheila Dixon resigned and the BDC ended up not selecting any proposals.

The land available for attractions includes portions of the west shore, south shore and north shore. New attractions would not be allowed to operate during certain times because of already authorized events such as the Grand Prix race, and they wouldn't be allowed to interfere with boats in the harbor or people walking along the promenade.

One potential bidder is Knightco, operator of the Inner Harbor Carousel. Representatives recently showed city officials plans for a miniature train that could be run near the Science Center.

Terrapin Adventures, a 2-year-old company based in Savage, also is interested in leasing space. The company operates outdoor attractions including a zip line, climbing tower and a "high ropes challenge course." Matt Baker, chief adventure officer, said he believes his company would be well-received at the Inner Harbor.

"Our concept is to develop a family-friendly, active outdoor attraction that will have similar features to our facility" next to Savage Mill, he said.

Baker said the company's proposal likely would include a zip line, and he is studying the city's request for proposals to develop specifics about its possible height, length and location.

Guides would be able to point out "some of the wonders of Baltimore once you are up in the air. We want it to be a learning experience as well as a fun experience," he said.

Baker said the 450-foot-long zip line ride at Savage carries people up to 30 feet in the air and is one of the company's most popular activities, with 10,000 riders last year. Before taking a ride, he said, patrons in Savage must sign a "waiver of liability" form. The company also carries insurance, has its equipment inspected more frequently than the law requires, and trains its employees in CPR and other emergency procedures, he said.

Jim Seay, president of Baltimore-based Premier Rides, is considering responding to the city's latest request for proposals as well, but he didn't want to tip his hand as to what he might propose. He said the city needs to add attractions at the waterfront and that he's pleased city officials are willing to work on a tight time frame.

In 2009 Seay was part of a group that suggested a number of ideas for the south shore, including a Ferris wheel, a "4-D theater" and a traveling exhibit featuring artifacts from Ripley's museum or a "mirror maze" by Ripley's.

"I'm very supportive of the city's efforts to infuse some excitement into the Inner Harbor," he said.

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