New pirate boat attraction among changes coming to Baltimore's Inner Harbor

A fleet of small pirate-themed boats will be coming to the Inner Harbor this summer, one of a number of changes in store for Baltimore's waterfront.

The city's spending board approved a five-year contract Wednesday with the Living Classrooms Foundation to repair a dilapidated dock between the World Trade Center and the National Aquarium and operate the new attraction there.

The nonprofit will spend about $300,000 to replace the dock and purchase a dozen four-seat electric boats for the public to rent, said Chris Rowsom, Living Classrooms vice president. The boats, equipped with faux cannons, crow's nests and pirate flags, and will be docked near the 30 Chessie Dragon paddle boats.

"It will be new and different," Rowsom said. "We're excited about that."

In addition to the boat attraction, new cafes, a garden memorializing the city's first African-American mayor and upgrades to Rash Field, McKeldin Plaza and the Harborplace pavilion along Pratt Street are planned or underway at the harbor.

The changes will be a draw for visitors, said Laurie Schwartz, president of the Waterfront Partnership, which oversees the Inner Harbor's upkeep and progress.

"There are always new attractions and amenities at the harbor, whether it is special events at the aquarium, new tenants at the Power Plant Live, or outdoor dining and special events," Schwartz said. "There are always new reasons to come back again."

Schwartz said after city voters approved a charter amendment in November allowing more outdoor cafes, the nonprofit is drafting plans for two snack bars, one at Rash Field and one at West Shore Park.

"We're starting to pull together a concept and ideas," she said. "We don't have details yet to share."

On Wednesdays and Fridays this spring and summer, beginning on May 5, food trucks and vendors will also be at McKeldin Plaza for a "harbor market," Schwartz said. The market will be open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The city Board of Estimates also accepted a $200,000 grant Wednesday to build a statue and garden next to the Maryland Science Center in honor of the late Clarence H. Du Burns, Baltimore's first African-American mayor.

Burns, then president of the Baltimore City Council, took over as mayor when William Donald Schaefer became governor in 1987. He held the city's top office for less than a year, defeated in the primary by Democrat Kurt L. Schmoke, who went on to win the general election.

Burns died at age 84 in 2003.

Schwartz said she was not sure about a timeline for completing the garden and statue. Efforts to reach the chairman of the memorial fund were unsuccessful.

Rowsom said the new electric pirate boats will be available for rental this summer, likely arriving in June. The dock replacement will get underway this month.

The pirate boats will cost $25 for four people to rent for 30 minutes. The dragon paddle boats cost $20.

Electric boats were available for rental in the past, but Rowsom said the old boats needed to be replaced and the disrepair of the dock needed to be addressed.

Living Classrooms will employ city youths at both boat rental stations as cashiers, dock hands and chase-boat operators, Rowsom said. He expects the nonprofit could employ as many as 50 young people over the spring and summer.

Proceeds from the pirate and dragon boats go to help maintain the historic ships in the harbor, such as the Constellation.

"It's a great opportunity for people to get on the water and relax a little bit and see what the Inner Harbor looks like from the water," Rowsom said.

ywenger@baltsun.com

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