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The city of Baltimore wants to give $1 million to Harborplace developer

The city of Baltimore said in legal filings that it wants to give $1 million to the private developer that will soon own the troubled Harborplace in the Inner Harbor, making good on comments made by Mayor Brandon Scott earlier this year.

In a May speech to the Downtown Partnership, Scott said his administration would commit $1 million to David Bramble, whose firm MCB Real Estate has spent months lining up the purchase of Harborplace. The twin mall-like pavilions have been losing money for years under out-of-state ownership. As restaurants and stores fled, Harborplace defaulted on a $76 million loan in 2019 and fell into receivership, a legal process typically used to avoid bankruptcy.

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A judge approved a deal for MCB to buy Harborplace on Friday. Court documents did not disclose the planned sales price. They did include a Sept. 1 filing from the mayor and City Council.

“The City of Baltimore believes prompt approval of the proposed sale to the Purchaser is in the best interests of the City and its residents,” the filing said. “The City is considering and favorably inclined to provide $1 million in pre-development capital to the Purchaser to assist in reimaging and revitalizing Harborplace.”

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MCB’s managing partner, David Bramble, did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Bramble has built a growing portfolio in recent years that includes a number of developments in Baltimore and nationally. His company is behind the Yard 56 project in Greektown, which tapped the first federal opportunity zone investment to the city, and acquired a portion of Clipper Mill and the Rotunda development. MCB Real Estate redeveloped Northwood Plaza Shopping Center near Morgan State University as Northwood Commons, where German grocer Lidl recently opened its first store in Baltimore.

Bramble was also on Scott’s transition team when the mayor was elected in 2020. Since 2019, Bramble has donated $20,000 to the election committees of city officials and state lawmakers who represent Baltimore, including $5,000 to City Council President Nick Mosby and $5,000 to Councilman Zeke Cohen.

Peter Pinkard, also a managing partner at MCB, has donated $5,000 to Scott’s election committee.

A spokesperson for Comptroller Bill Henry said the proposed $1 million has not yet come before the Board of Estimates, which oversees city spending. Bramble donated $1,000 to Henry’s campaign committee in 2020.

“I appreciate the importance of the Inner Harbor to downtown Baltimore and am supportive of the City assisting in its redevelopment,” Henry said in a statement.

In addition to the $1 million expected from the city, the redevelopment of Harborplace could benefit from $166 million in state funding the General Assembly approved to renovate the Inner Harbor and its attractions and to boost downtown Baltimore.

Of that money, $67.5 million was set aside for making over the Inner Harbor promenade, where the Harborplace pavilions stand along Pratt and Light streets, and Bramble will have a major role in deciding how it is spent.

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MCB spent $70,000 on four lobbyists from Harris Jones & Malone to lobby for that money, according to disclosure forms the lobbyists filed with the state ethics commission. Late last year, MCB donated $5,000 to Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Democrat from Baltimore. Ferguson is president of the state Senate and has spoken positively about Bramble’s plans to redevelop Harborplace.

As outlined in a bill passed this year, the $67.5 million to fix up the promenade will be split into three tranches, with $7.5 million coming this fiscal year and $30 million pre-authorized for each of the next two fiscal years. The legislature could cancel those funds in upcoming sessions.

In October, Pinkard donated $6,000 apiece to the Democratic Senate Caucus Committee and the House Democratic Caucus Committee.

Turning around Harborplace is seen as a key part of revitalizing downtown Baltimore. The 42-year-old pavilions opened in 1980 under the administration of Mayor William Donald Schaefer and were developed by the firm of James Rouse, an influential Maryland developer and urban planner who built similar festival marketplaces up and down the East Coast and also established Columbia in Howard County. Harborplace is built on city-owned land.

New York-based Ashkenazy Acquisitions Corp. bought Harborplace a decade ago for about $100 million and promised major renovations before defaulting on its debt as the pavilions struggled.

An appraisal conducted this summer pegged the market value of Harborplace at $45.8 million and its liquidation value at $27.5 million. At the time of the appraisal, Harborplace was leasing just 38% of the more than 156,000 square feet available.

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To get the most value out of Harborplace, the appraisal recommended demolishing the current pavilions and building mixed-use towers that include apartments.


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