Baltimore’s Harborplace pavilions would be replaced by a $500 million mixed-use development with two residential towers, offices, shops, restaurants, public space and possibly a hotel, under a plan proposed by MCB Real Estate of Baltimore.
Developers P. David Bramble and Peter Pinkard of MCB Real Estate on Monday unveiled renderings that offered a first look at the development they would like to build in place of the two largely vacant “festival marketplace’ pavilions at Pratt and Light streets that MCB acquired last summer.
Preliminary plans call for two towers at 203 Light St., one 32 stories high and one 25 stories high. Other components of the project, which would still be called “Harborplace,” include a 10-story structure at 303 East Pratt St. that would mostly contain offices and a nine-story structure at 301 East Pratt St. mostly containing food and beverage-oriented businesses, with a “roof-top park” accessible to the public.
In addition to the 3.2 acres it already leases from the city, MCB is seeking to take over the former site of the McKeldin Fountain and make it part of its development parcel.
The design marks a break away from the enclosed malls that were popular in 1980, when Harborplace opened, and toward a mixed-use approach to waterfront development. It reorients the intersection of Pratt and Light Streets back to a more historic grid layout, in order to increase public space and maximize gathering space. It adds 4.8 acres of new park and public space, including 1.4 acres of new promenade and an area called The Park at Freedoms Port, for a total of 18.7 acres, up from 13.9 acres at present.
City Council member Eric Costello is expected to introduce legislation Monday that would pave the way for the project to be constructed. The legislation would remove a roughly two-story height limit on the property, increase the amount of land that MCB could develop, and change zoning to permit the new development to contain residences and office space – uses not currently allowed on the Harborplace footprint.
In addition to council approval, city voters will be asked to approve a referendum that will be on the ballot in November of 2024. The referendum would authorize the height limit waiver and land use changes the developers need to move ahead with their project.
Speaking at the Harborplace’s Light Street Pavilion, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott praised the venture as the sort of bold initiative Baltimore needs to spark a “second Renaissance” that will help boost the economy and bring people back to the city’s waterfront, just as Harborplace did in 1980.
“We are talking about the crown jewel of Baltimore getting a new life, a second life, its best life,” Scott said. “Stella’s gonna get her groove back.”
What Baltimore needs is a development “showcasing the best of Baltimore,” Scott said. “Not the best of chain restaurants. Not the best of what everyone else does. We want to showcase the best of us. Sprinkle everything with Old Bay so that we let the rest of the world know that we are the greatest city in America. The plans being unveiled today…look through the lens of what’s best for Baltimore, what’s best for our residents, what’s best to bolster our neighborhoods and what’s best for our city to thrive and grow.”
“Harborplace is the beating heart of Baltimore – the place that is uniquely Baltimore that brings us all together. In recent years, it has reflected the mood of the city but not the hope of the City,” Bramble said.
“This project and this design activate the waterfront in a way that ensures it is for everyone in our city, our region and our state. We prioritized listening to the community to hear what they wanted and married it to what could actually be built. I’m so proud to share these plans with all of Baltimore because we deserve an internationally renowned waterfront that belongs to all of us.”
MCB’s design team is led by Gensler, an international firm that is working on other major projects for Baltimore, including a new train station for Amtrak and a global headquarters for Under Armour. Others on the design team include BCT Design Group; Sulton Campbell Britt & Associates, one of the region’s oldest minority-led design firms; Unknown Studio, a landscape architecture and urban design firm; STV Inc.; RK&K; The Traffic Group; Biohabitats and Moffatt & Nichol.
The project’s most sculptural feature, a nine-story building with a series of roof terraces that both curve and step up at an angle that recalls the National Aquarium’s rooftop pyramid, will be designed by 3XN Architects from Copenhagen, winner of a design competition held by MCB. It will be one of the first buildings in the United States for 3XN, which Fast Company named the “World’s Most Innovative Architect” in 2022. Its Quay Quarter Tower in Sydney, Australia, was named ‘World Building of the Year’ at the 2022 World Architecture Festival in Lisbon.
Once approved, the project is expected to be built in phases. The timetable for construction will depend on how soon the developers can obtain regulatory approvals and financing. Bramble said construction of the individual buildings is not contingent on public financing, but the developers will be looking to the public sector to pay for improvements to public spaces.
According to a fact sheet and other information supplied by the developers, the major elements of the project include:
301 East Pratt Street – A 200,000-square-foot, nine-story building containing retail and commercial space, predominately food and beverage businesses, and 50,000 square feet of roof terraces overlooking the harbor. This is the structure designed by 3XN Architects of Copenhagen.
303 East Pratt Street – a 10-story, 200,000-square-foot commercial building with a 5,000-square-foot community conference center available to the public and an open ground floor that’s designed to be resilient to sea-level rise and flooding. Gensler is the lead architect. The predominant use is likely to be office space.
201 Light Street – 8,500 square feet of retail space, 30,000 square feet of park space, and a 2,000-seat amphitheater bounded by Pratt and Light streets and featuring views of the harbor.
203 Light Street – This is the largest component of the project, with a North Tower rising 25 stories and a South Tower rising 32 stories. It would contain retail space, commercial space and about 900 residences. Gensler is the lead architect.
Park and promenade improvements – Improvements would include more than 500 new trees, adding shade to the promenade; 1.1 acres of “elevated public space;” 3.4 acres of “revitalized waterfront promenade,” including 1.4 acres of new promenade; and 5.5 acres of “enhanced activation space” at West Shore Park, the area between the Baltimore Visitor Center at 401 Light Street and the Maryland Science Center at 601 Light Street.
Additional improvements include: “upper and lower promenade typologies to mitigate flooding events and bring the pubic closer to the water,” “native landscaping and softer shoreline to protect the ecology of the Chesapeake,” “marsh/wetlands to intercept and remove nutrients from the harbor;” and “multi-purpose spaces to aid year-round programming, festivals and celebrations along the water.”