A few other recommendations give us pause. The strategic plan says not to subsidize building any more downtown hotels — occupancy is down — yet it renews a call for constructing a new downtown convention center. The proposal floated not long ago for that new center also called for building a new hotel, the relocated Sheraton. Since the convention center project appears to be in the distant future, wise heads will have a few years to work out this apparent contradiction.
As for retail, the plan is optimistic that the influx of new downtown residents will spur the arrival of new street-level stores and holds out the possibility of the happy days when the shops of Harborplace and The Gallery will provide goods for denizens of downtown rather than just items for tourists.
The authors of the downtown plan did not dodge the issue of crime, stating that vacancies, panhandling and rowdy crowds associated with nightclubs feed fears about public safety. They recommended that no new nightclubs be located close to hotels or residences. That is smart. Periodic crime waves, such as the recent string of assaults and robberies that occurred in downtown and nearby neighborhoods do not help the image of downtown. But as the plan noted, statistics show that downtown is actually one of the safest areas in the city; crime dropped 53 percent there in the last nine years .
Finally, to attract and keep new residents, the plans says downtown must improve its curb appeal to weave together its parks, plazas and streetscapes, and to bring people outside. Downtown has some appealing open spaces, but they are not well connected and easily walkable.
Over all, the message is that downtown Baltimore is a significant asset — an important economic resource containing 17 percent of Baltimore businesses and 27 percent of all jobs. It is also a place people want to be. If, as Mr. Murphy has observed, the nation is falling in love with its cities again, downtown Baltimore — with its mix of residents, offices and retail venues — should have plenty of suitors. But to remain attractive, it needs to keep itself in good shape. For the most part, the regimen set out in the strategic plan is a good way to get there.