Preliminary plans for the redevelopment of Harborplace will be unveiled on Monday, according to a press advisory about the prime Inner Harbor parcel.
“MCB Managing Partners P. David Bramble and Peter Pinkard, joined by Maryland Governor Wes Moore, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, elected leaders, business and community members, will unveil the design plans for a reimagined Harborplace,” states a notice issued about the event, which is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Oct. 30.
The announcement will mark the culmination of a lengthy “community engagement” process in which MCB Real Estate held a series of public and private meetings to learn what people would like to see built in place of the two mostly-vacant retail pavilions that occupy a 3.2-acre, city-owned parcel at the intersection of Pratt and Light streets in Baltimore.
It will also be the unofficial start of a review process in which people react to the preliminary plans and representatives of various city agencies scrutinize those plans for the purpose of issuing building permits needed by the developer to bring about any major changes. Because the city of Baltimore owns the land beneath the pavilions and leases it to the developer, city officials have a great amount of say in what can be constructed there.
An affiliate of the Baltimore-based real estate firm acquired the pavilions last summer and announced members of its design team shortly afterwards. Opened by The Rouse Company in 1980 as a “festival marketplace” containing 125,000-square-feet of shops and restaurants, the buildings had been run for more than a year by a court-appointed receiver after their previous owner, Ashkenazy Acquisition Corporation of New York, ran into financial problems.
Bramble indicated at a community meeting on September 30 that he was close to unveiling preliminary plans for the land. He said after that meeting that he had decided to demolish the two buildings to make way for new construction, rather than recycle them for new uses.
“We’ve gotten input,” he said after the September 30 meeting. “Now it’s time for us to give people pictures and ideas to react to.”
The community process involved three public gatherings with people who signed up to learn about MCB’s plans. Company representatives also held smaller meetings and dinners with various stakeholders, created a website (ourharborplace.com), that gave the general public a chance to offer feedback, and even knocked on doors to spread the word about the redevelopment. According to Bramble, 30,000 people from more than 80 neighborhoods have reached out to his team in one way or another.
Throughout the community engagement process, Bramble never showed any drawings or renderings to indicate what might replace the two pavilions, saying he wanted to hear from community residents first. He has said that whatever replaces Harborplace won’t be a shopping mall and most likely will have a mix of components, possibly including stores, restaurants, residences, offices, hospitality and public space. He has also said that the development will not include a Ferris wheel and that it has to be economically feasible.
The absence of any specific drawings or renderings has led to speculation about what MCB might propose. Some people have said they’re concerned that the company will seek to break the current two-story height limit on the site and build a high rise that blocks the views of the harbor from other buildings several blocks inland. Others say they don’t believe constructing more office space or luxury housing would be the best use of the valuable property, if the goal is to draw more visitors to the waterfront.
Bramble’s decision to raze the pavilions has drawn a mixed response, with some people saying they would prefer a plan in which the buildings are retrofitted for new uses rather than torn down. The demolition plan is supported by others, including developers Thibault Manekin and Brian Gibbons; National Aquarium President and CEO John Racanelli, and Mayor Brandon Scott.
There has also been speculation that MCB will want to enlarge its development footprint by incorporating the triangular parcel once occupied by the McKeldin Fountain, a sculpture that was replaced by a public green space just west of the Harborplace pavilions.
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, and Unknown Studio, a landscape architecture and urban design firm.
Obtaining design approvals and lining up financing for any redevelopment of Harborplace is expected to take several years. In the meantime, MCB has launched an effort to activate the waterfront by leasing vacant stores in the two pavilions to merchants and others who would be willing to occupy space on a short-term basis and move out when the company is ready to proceed with its long-range plans.
Initial temporary tenants include Crust by Mack; Matriarch Coffee and Made in Baltimore, a project of the Baltimore Development Corporation. Others announced this week include: Saturday Morning Café; the Creatively Black Baltimore Art Installation, and Dope Nerds, an organization that wants to educate the public about Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence and other forms of advanced technology.
Made in Baltimore will have a grand opening of its pop-up store, located in the former H&M space in the Light Street Pavilion, on Nov. 9.