Harborplace, Baltimore's $20 million commercial centerpiece and symbol of urban renewal in the Inner Harbor area, has weathered its first winter and is anticipating the crowds and commerce of its first full summer.
Opened to great fanfare and a waiting public last July 2, Harborplace has exceeded the expectations of its planners, despite a slight battering over the winter. And the twin-pavilioned, three-acre market area has helped instill a degree of civic pride in Baltimoreans that used to be hard to detect.
"We were ambivalent about Harborplace when we thought it would cut into the open areas around the harbor," said local resident Richard Marquart. "Now we regard it as source of some pride. We take all our out-of-town friends here, and they're invariably impressed. It's stronger now than when it started."
Something else that seems to make a strong impression on tourists and visitors to Harborplace is its high prices. But the carnival atmosphere and the pervasive aromas of a hundred kinds of food seem to take some of the string out of paying for the pleasures of Harborplace.
"I love it," exclaimed Tracey Maxey of Elkhart, Ind. "It's really nice, but it's a lot more expensive than I thought." Maxey and a group of her friends were visiting Harborplace from Washington, where they had come to perform with their high school band in the annual Cherry Blossom Parade.
Just a few years ago, not as many tourists would have left the monuments and memorials of Washington to drive into Baltimore's inner harbor area, but such is the impact of Baltimore's ambitious urban renewal programs. These programs have pumped an estimated $700 million in private urban renewal investment into the downtown area, including about $170 million for a 29-acre complex of plazas, restaurants, office buildings and retail outlets crowned by Harborplace.
Designed and constructed by The Rouse Co., Harborplace contains more than 130 individual retail areas, of which about half serve food. Leases, available for one or three years, or 30 days, encourage long-term commitments from established businesses while allowing small, seasonal operations a high degree of flexibility. The actual floor space of the two pavilions is roughly divided into a number of theme markets.
The Pratt Street Pavilion houses about 40 retail shops and five major restaurants. One store that began life in this area is "Embraceable Zoo," a colorful outlet for evey imaginable variety of quality-made, cuddly, stuffed animals. The shop was opened by Arthur Watson, director for 32 years of the Baltimore Zoo, and has received a good share of media attention and popular acclaim.
"We are very satisfied, of course, with the reception we've had in Harborplace," Watson said. "Harborplace opened just when I was getting ready to retire, and I came up with the proverbial right idea in the right place at the right time.
"The thing about Harborplace that is a little unique is that it's a place to go. There are always activities and such a variety of shops that there's something of interest for everyone. We had some slump in the winter, but not as much as I expected. Here there is a sea of stability."
Evidently, some stores and restaurants were hit a little harder than others during the cold months, but no more than four retail outlets closed, according to a Harborplace spokesman. The Light Street Pavilion, scene of five more restaurants, contains Phillip's Crab House, a well-known landmark in Ocean City, Md., and a rapidly rising star among the Harborplace eateries.
"A lot of little stores had problems over the winter," said Margaret Claudy, a waitress at Phillip's of Harborplace. "The clientele really plunged as soon as Daylight Savings Time [changed] and school started. We dropped about 50 percent in customers. But I think Harborplace has fulfilled the expectations of both the Rouse Co. and the city of Baltimore and the owners. Phillip's has done very well."
So well, in fact, that the owners plan to open yet another full-fledged Phillip's restaurant in Harborplace in June. That's in addition to the three carry-outs, the raw bar and the sit-down restaurant already in operation.
The other market areas are the self-explanatory Food Hall, the Trading Hall and Colonnade Market. Finally, the Sam Smith Market, a group of about 16 to 18 spaces, described by Harborplace advertising-marketing director Joan Davidson as "a constantly changing panorama of items," houses a dozen specialty shops that come and go on a scheduled basis with the changing of seasons.
Bruce Dickson, manager of The American Cafe, said his restaurant's winter performance "really surprised the bank. Nobody had done business down here in the winter, so no one knew what to expect. The success of this concept will be proven over a long period of time."
The merchants of Harborplace are busily preparing for the upcoming summer months and that success. "Help Wanted" signs were not an uncommon store window feature last weekend. Final touches on the nearby Baltimore Aquarium and an open air theater on Pier 6 for summer concerts are being made for Harborplace's first anniversary celebration, scheduled for the July 4th weekend.