At Baltimore’s Inner Harbor this week, the air was warm, the sky was blue and the water shimmered. But the foot traffic was sparse, and it was easy to see why.
With the two Harborplace buildings at the heart of the tourist waterfront more than 90% vacant, there was little for visitors to do but enjoy the view and keep on walking.
Alan Patel thought he could at least go inside the Light Street Pavilion on Tuesday and look around, but found its doors were locked.
“I knew this place had gone down. But I didn’t know it was this bad!” exclaimed Patel, a California software engineer who recalled eating at a restaurant there about 10 years ago. “I remember it being pretty nice back then.”
All that’s open today is a Hooters restaurant, accessible from the inland, or Light Street side of the building, and a tee-shirt and souvenir store at the other end of the building, likewise accessible only from a single outside door.
There’s no way to get into the mall-like interior, where clothing stores, eateries and curio shops once attracted throngs of visitors.
They’re all gone.
Harborplace’s only other sit-down restaurant is the Cheesecake Factory at the Pratt Street Pavilion.
That building’s interior is still open to the public but it’s gloomy and almost entirely vacant.
Except for a couple of very low-key operations – selling crepes, inexpensive jewelry and more tee-shirts – everything else is closed.
In Search of a Plan
“So what are they going to do with it?” Patel asked.
That’s the question before Mayor Brandon Scott and other city leaders, who yesterday gave Harborplace’s new owner, MCB Real Estate, three years to figure out a plan.
Among the other terms of the amended lease that the Board of Estimates approved were three years of rent abatement and up to $1 million for future planning and other costs.
MCB co-founder P. David Bramble says he needs more time to devise a turnaround strategy. The board members who approved the deal did so without questions or comment. (Scott himself was absent from the meeting, attending an African American Mayors Association conference in Washington instead.)
Once viewed as the centerpiece of the city’s revival, the 43-year-old festival marketplace has been beset by broad trends and Baltimore-centric challenges – crime, depopulation, changes in shopping habits, the post-pandemic drop in office leasing and an increasingly vacant downtown.
Leaving those thorny issues aside, the new agreement between Bramble and the city simply requires the developer to keep the pavilions “in substantially the same condition” as the present, while he “endeavors to develop a program for ‘pop up’ rentals for local businesses” during the three-year “development period.”
We took a look around on Tuesday, taking photos and a few notes.
Some scenes stood out.
Sun streamed through the windows of the onetime Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurant at the southern end of the Light Street Pavilion. It looked, though vacant, somehow inviting.
Outside it, there was a scattering of fast-food trash in the bushes.
Above it on the second-floor balcony, which is still accessible via outside stairs, a pile of blankets indicated someone may be sleeping there.
Hats off to whoever it is – they’re able to wake up to a spectacular view of the harbor.
Over at the other pavilion on Pratt Street, the staircase faced big windows framing the harbor.
A woman with two children entered from the street side of the building, gingerly bypassing a badly cracked window.
She looked to her right and then to her left.
Seeing nothing but empty hallways, she dashed through the building, exiting on the other side toward the water.