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More than $166 million in state funds to go to revitalize Inner Harbor attractions

More than $166 million in state funding will go toward a comprehensive and ambitious effort to revitalize downtown Baltimore and the Inner Harbor, state officials announced Thursday.

The current and future funding for anchor institutions at the harbor pays long-overdue attention to a downtown core that’s the “heart and soul” of the state, Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson said. The record funding was secured over the past two legislative sessions and will continue through the 2025 fiscal year, said Ferguson, who made the announcement along with other members of the city’s state delegation.

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Calling the investment transformative and historic, Ferguson said the downtown core has lacked sufficient funding in recent years to make necessary improvements, which range from replacing the more than 40-year-old harbor promenade to maintaining buildings that house key museum attractions. The Baltimore Democrat said he believes total transformation is possible within several years.

“There is no city in America, not a single one, that has a thriving uptown but a struggling downtown,” said Ferguson during a news conference Thursday at the Inner Harbor’s recently redeveloped Rash Field.

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The Inner Harbor needs to be transformed in a way that prioritizes the enjoyment of city residents, and visitors will follow, he said.

“This is a crucial, crucial moment for the city,” Ferguson said. “We are at a crossroads. And now we are making the decision to invest further, to believe in the potential of this city and this downtown.”

The announcement followed news earlier this month that a city developer has reached a deal to acquire and re-imagine the long-struggling Harborplace pavilions, once a centerpiece of the harbor’s redevelopment in the early 1980s.

Developer P. David Bramble and his MCB Real Estate firm plan to acquire the retail attraction out of court receivership. That deal, if approved by the Baltimore Circuit Court judge overseeing the receivership, would pave the way for what Bramble described as an extensive redevelopment effort to “completely re-imagine” the faded retail attraction and revitalize the city’s downtown waterfront.

Funding announced Thursday would go toward some of the Inner Harbor’s most high-profile anchor attractions, including the Maryland Science Center, the National Aquarium and Port Discovery Children’s Museum. The Science Center, for instance, will be able to replace an antiquated, nearly five-decade-old heating, ventilation and air conditioning system and also launch a new space science exhibit.

Funding also is earmarked for the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, The Peale, Visit Baltimore, the Pride of Baltimore II and the USS Constellation.

Officials counted $50 million set aside to relocate 3,0000 state employees from State Center to the Central Business District as part of the $166 million.

“This is about our generation stepping up and saying that it’s time for us to build and lead and stand on the shoulders of previous generations who had a vision, who had a vision that Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, that our Harborplace, that our waterways would be the best in the nation,” said Del. Brooke Lierman, a member of the city delegation.

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Taking steps such as activating vacant office space for use by state employees and adding more green space will benefit residents and visitors “for decades to come,” she said.

Shelonda Stokes, president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, called the central business district the heart of sports and entertainment, arts and culture, commerce and, more recently, residential life in the city and critical to the state’s economic success.

“There is no place in the city like it,” Stokes said. “But I also recognize that there have been years that we haven’t had targeted investments and because of that we also have a backlog of capital needs.”

She said she expects a boost from state workers who will be relocated from State Center, just outside downtown, to business district office buildings with vacancies. She said she often hears from restaurant operators and shopkeepers who are eager for their arrival.

Making downtown safe and welcoming must be a top priority, said Ferguson, adding that investments that provide opportunities are key to reducing incidences of violence and crime.

“Safety is always going to be a top priority,” he said.

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Here’s a list of other planned spending:

  • $11.5 million for the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore to create innovative and safe spaces throughout downtown
  • $7.5 million to start renovating the Inner Harbor Promenade with an additional $60 million pre-authorized in fiscal 2024 and fiscal 2025
  • $7.5 million to raze Baltimore City Community College’s Bard Building near Power Plant Live! and temporarily transform it into a green space until further development can occur
  • $5.5 million for the Reginald F. Lewis Museum
  • $5 million for the National Aquarium
  • $5 million for streetscaping the new Warner Street Entertainment District between M&T Bank Stadium and the Horseshoe Casino Baltimore
  • $4 million for a second phase of redevelopment at Rash Field Park, with planning to start next month for a concept that includes more open space, gardens and exercise equipment
  • $3.25 million for Port Discovery
  • $3 million for the Maryland Science Center
  • $2.5 million for the USS Constellation
  • $750,000 for the Pride of Baltimore II
  • $400,000 for the Peale Center
  • $200,000 for the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company.

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