Thursday, January 28, 2010

Harbor Place: Get Out of the Way!

When it comes to the Rebirth of the Inner Harbor what two words automatically come to mind? Harbor Place right? Me too, when you think of the one thing that's draining vitality from the Inner Harbor 30 years later what two words come to mind? Harbor Place? Me too. What two words do you utter in disgust when you can't see the water from Office, Apartment, or Hotel Room when promised a view of the water? Well you get the idea. The question now becomes, how did the once World Class Shopping Venue that brought the Harbor back from a dead industrial port into the model for Tourist Related Waterfronts looking to redevelop become so problematic? The answer lies ahead.
Harbor Place set the bench in 1980 for a massive Inner Harbor Rebirth. Paired with the Harbor Promenade the tourist attractions began multiplying with the Science Center, the National Aquarium, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, M&T Bank Stadium, countless Hotels, the Convention Center, 1st Mariner Arena to name a few. Some of these attractions were built before Harbor Place but they gained more attention as the Harbor's pull put them on the map. The Activity at the Harbor was a huge success and Restaurant Owners in nearby Little Italy who were initially afraid they'd lose business were ecstatic when their business boomed post Harbor Place. With the Inner Harbor in the 1980s there was still the "Don't Make the Wrong Turn" worries but it didn't seem to deter Tourists.
On the Residential side Mayor William Donald Shaffer's Dollar Row House program in neighborhoods like Otterbein, Fells Point, Ridgley's Delight and Federal Hill made their popularity and home values soar. Since most of the Harbor was still an Industrial Wasteland the demand to redevelop was greater than ever. Inner Harbor East, Canton Crossing, The Crescent at Fells Point, Tide Point, Harbor Point, Harborview, Silo Point all have redrawn the landscape of the Harbor. So everything appears to be Hunk Dorry right?
Well, just like anything and everything in the urban planning field, there's a shelf life for developments or trends if you will. What worked astronomically well 30 years ago doesn't necessarily work today. Usually the catalyst ages the worst, it's surrounded by newer developments with constantly changing innovations in urban planning that weren't there 30 years ago. Also Downtown just kept expanding, all of those developments I mentioned and then some have wooed businesses both independent and national chains into their new development.
Inner Harbor East is much denser than Harbor Place, the traffic design is such that crossing major City Streets is not a life or death maneuver. The same can be said about developments along Key Highway. To get from the Harbor Place Promenade to pretty much anywhere else in the City ie the Hotels, you have to either cross Pratt St., President St., or Light St. if not all of them.Although very safe there have been a few instances of Crime occurring in the more resent summers that have had an impact on businesses in Harbor Place with Outdoor Seating. A greater Police presence can either make you feel safer or it can make you feel like you're in an area that's a known hot spot for crime. The Inner Harbor is not a crime hot spot when it comes to Baltimore Standards but for tourists who don't know about the rest of Baltimore and think that these few incidents are the norm and that the Harbor isn't safe.
All of these elements can hurt business in a Retail Complex such as Harbor Place, and it has. Every time I walk through it from the Sky Walk to the Promenade I see more and more shuttered businesses that moved to other locations. The fact that Harbor Place is often used as means to get across Town without crossing streets makes it appear more crowded but the people aren't always shopping or eating there. As more and more new developments feature Sky Scrapers; the views of the Harbor become obstructed and the Harbor itself is why Baltimore is what it is.
So how do we fix this? The City has requested for proposals to redevelop Pratt St. which has become absurdly wide and congested and has lost its role as the City's Show Case Street. Plans for redevelopment on Pratt St. have included widening the road for two way traffic, adding more Retail, narrowing the road, adding the Red Line, and subtracting Retail. Obviously these plans differ greatly in their goals but Pratt St needs to be redeveloped in order to save or not save Harbor Place. I favor narrowing Pratt St. and putting the Red Line at Surface Level to Show Case a burgoening Rail Transit System for the Baltimore Region.I choose not saving Harbor Place, it obstructs the view of the Harbor while traveling on both Pratt St. and Light St. and its storefronts face the back of the road or the front of the Promenade. Harbor Place is simply in the way. It has enough vacancies to warrant redevelopment and something will have to be done as part of the Master Plan for Pratt St. There are enough open spaces for Retail in other parts of Downtown, mainly the Westside for existing Retailers in Harbor Place.
Now what should in its place? Nothing. Sometimes less is more and with less buildings in the way the more opportunity there is to just sit back and enjoy the view of the Harbor. So get out of the Harbor Place.


性感的我 said...

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Anonymous said...

Harborplace = officially dead. The food court is gone now. Gallery--a pathetic 80s shadow.

You are correct in recommending it be demolished in favor of public access waterfront--think of Lake Shore Drive in Chicago (without the hideous highway-ness and underpasses)--that highlights Lake Michigan as a city gem. we need to do the same to the harbor. Nice work on this blog btw. Love the detailed focus on urban/suburban development issues and historical context.

Philip said...

Some people are only looking for cheap lodging because they are only using it to rest over night during drives.

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Jaz said...

Many hotels solicit conventions, sales meetings, and incentive tours to fill their otherwise empty rooms; some resorts even close for the off-season.

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