Following at least a decade of planning, and nearly four years after designs were first made public, the city is finally moving forward on a new water taxi terminal on Pier 1 in the Inner Harbor.
Work on the new stop, which will double as a museum for the 165-year-old USS Constellation at the foot of the harbor, is set to begin this fall, said Muhammed Khalid, DOT’s chief engineer and deputy director. Khalid said construction should wrap up by late 2020.
The new building will provide access to the historic ship, similar to the existing museum, but will be American Disabilities Act-compliant and, happily, more structurally sound.
“I think it is time,” Khalid said of the soon-to-be-replaced building. “It essentially is done with its service life.”
It’ll also include exhibits, retaining some of the educational pieces of the current expiring museum.
The project is being funded with nearly $1.8 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation, as well as $1 million in state money awarded during the O’Malley administration and $500,000 in city funds. The nonprofit Charles T. Bauer Foundation also gave $500,000 for the effort, according to James Piper Bond, president and CEO of Living Classrooms, which helps preserve and restore Baltimore’s historic ships.
Beltsville-based Mid-Atlantic General Contractors is handling construction on the roughly $4 million project. The city’s spending board approved the transfer of funds to pay the firm this week; an agenda item said the new terminal “will function as the centerpiece of the Water Taxi and the City’s historic ships.”
For Living Classrooms “as stewards” for Baltimore’s historic vessels, “and for the hundreds of thousands of people from around the world that visit them… this new facility will be fabulous and a game changer,” Bond said.
Designs shared by the project architect, New York-based W Architecture, show a 4,000-plus-square-foot space made almost entirely of glass, with a second-floor entrance to the ship and a water taxi stop on the first floor.
A U.S. Department of Transportation engineer on the project told the Baltimore Business Journal in 2015 that initial plans were only for a museum, but the feds wouldn’t agree to that as an acceptable use for U.S. DOT funds because it didn’t have a transportation-related component. So, the city agreed to have it double as a water taxi stop.
The effort has been at least 10 years in the making. Asked about the delays, Khalid cited issues waiting on designs to be drawn up and a “procurement process [that] took much longer than we anticipated.”
Mid-Atlantic General Contractors’ winning bid was accepted in December 2017, records show.
Bond said Martin Millspaugh and Walter Sondheim, two of the original masterminds who helped turn the Inner Harbor into a tourist destination, “were instrumental” in helping plan the project in its concept stage, including pushing for it be squat, ADA-compliant and made of glass.
The new structure will be used by the private, Sagamore Ventures-owned Baltimore Water Taxi system, Bond said, as well as, potentially, the city’s Harbor Connector water taxi system. At present, the Harbor Connector has five stops, the innermost being at Rusty Scupper and Harbor East.
“This is another way for us to look at options of implementing a larger service,” Baltimore DOT spokesman German Vigil said. The city will first need to obtain funding for that expansion, he noted.
A spokesperson for Baltimore Water Taxi did not respond to messages requesting comment. The company has been owned by Kevin Plank’s investment firm, Sagamore Ventures, since summer of 2016.
While the new stop is being built, Khalid said the area nearby will be fenced off to avoid interrupting pedestrians. Construction materials will be delivered at night and during non-business hours, he said.
Bond noted this is some positive news for the Inner Harbor, which recently made headlines for police arresting youths who gathered there over Memorial Day weekend, and for the Harborplace shopping plaza being placed into receivership. The latter prompted Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young this week to suggest the complex, which sits feet from the planned water taxi stop, be razed and redesigned.
“With all the negativity in the harbor recently, this is a bright light we can look to,” Bond said.