The Baltimore skyline is iconic: The National Aquarium's blue waves and the World Trade Center's five-sided building have been depicted in places as varied as Robert McClintock paintings and local body art. The Domino Sugar sign is — well, it's the Domino Sugar sign. It's priceless. Exelon Corp.'s Baltimore office, proposed to be built on the old Allied Chemical site in Harbor Point, would alter that skyline forever. In that context, it too needs to be iconic.
The proposed office building has been treated by the mayor's office as simply a necessity of the Exelon merger with Constellation Energy. Instead, why not treat this as an opportunity to create an iconic building on what is arguably the best piece of waterfront property in the Inner Harbor? Why not host an international design competition to build the new building — and bring world-class architecture to our waterfront?
From the Eiffel Tower in Paris, to the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, to the Freedom Tower in New York City, a competitively chosen design captures the hearts and minds of a city's people at a specific point in their collective history. When the Chicago Tribune outgrew its office space in 1922, the company launched an international design competition, seeking to build "the most beautiful and distinctive office building in the world." Baltimore's citizens should be afforded that same opportunity. We certainly deserve it.
Why not ask the best and brightest building designers to explore the site's potential and envision what will surely grow to be a landmark of Baltimore? Why not decide together how to grow the trademark of Baltimore? Why not ask for the best for our city? This opportunity comes perhaps once in a generation.
Our leaders were right to think about jobs and the city's economy. But they weren't thinking about how to use this new building to bring world-class architecture design to one of the best-known waterfronts in the country. They weren't thinking about how the community could and should be engaged in deciding how our skyline should look. With a little vision, the mayor's office can bring not only jobs and tax revenue but the prestige our famed waterfront deserves.
This is also a unique opportunity for Exelon. Hosting an international design competition for the prominently located new Baltimore office would help shake off the firm's post-merger PR blues. Baltimore citizens will have something to be excited about, rather than lamenting the loss of our city's last Fortune 500 company — or the increases in our energy bills.
After all, Exelon is now one of Baltimore's largest employers. Its office building, because of its location and the buzz around the merger, will surely be a signature structure on our waterfront. Wanting to provide Baltimore's citizens with the best-designed addition to our skyline is one way for Exelon to show true commitment and respect for its new regional home. Such a gesture would be a mark of exemplary corporate citizenship.
Exelon has already announced the interior designers, structural engineers, and LEED consultant for the new building's construction, demonstrating commitment to fulfilling the state's and the city's request. I say, let's ask the mayor's office to pause for just a minute and reconsider.
I've lived and worked in Baltimore for nearly three decades. I'm proud of what this city has accomplished in that time, and I believe that together, we can accomplish so much more. This is a unique opportunity for Baltimore. Let's not let it go to waste.
David L. Warnock is a founder and CEO of Camden Partners, a private equity firm located in downtown Baltimore. He is chairman of the Center for Urban Families, a workforce development organization in Baltimore, and chairman and co-founder of Green Street Academy, a Baltimore City public school. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.