One sunny day two summers ago, as Yvonne Hardy-Phillips and her husband, Oliver, shopped for groceries at Whole Foods Market in Harbor East, something happened that took the couple and other store patrons by surprise.
From out of the gourmet cheese aisle strolled "two leggy, svelte 20-something women, clad only in bikinis and barely there cover-ups," recalls Hardy-Phillips, an arts educator who lives in Mount Vernon. Catching snatches of their conversation, the pair had just stepped off one of the pleasure boats moored in nearby waters, a block or so away, she says.
"These two sophisticated young women shopped as if they were in the South of France with no thought to the many eyes watching them," she said. "As I left the store with my purchases, I knew that Harbor East and Baltimore had been forever changed."
Indeed. Baltimore has never had a neighborhood quite like Harbor East, the downtown waterfront community bound by Fleet Street on the north, Central Avenue on the east, and water on the west and south. The "entrance" begins at President Street, where a gleaming golden sculpture, the Katyn Memorial, seems to showcase the community; Aliceanna is the main street through the area, according to the owners and developers.
"Technically, Harbor East is about six city blocks, but the brand name is being used by the surrounding areas as far east as Caroline Street and sometimes even farther," says Christopher H. Janian, assistant development manager for H&S Properties Development Corp., owned by bakery magnate John Paterakis. "Also, some areas to the north are referring to their location as in Harbor East as well."
Yet the mix of retail shops, hotels, offices and residences now known as Harbor East was mostly a jumble of decaying warehouses a decade ago. Despite being mere blocks from Baltimore's famous Inner Harbor, many once considered the area something of a wasteland.
Today, Legg Mason is moving its headquarters from downtown's USFG building to a new space in Harbor East, slated for completion next year. Next door, the 44-story Four Seasons Hotel and Residences is also under construction; it's slated for completion in early 2010.
"Back when I attended George Washington University in the '80s, I used to come down to Fells Point from D.C.," says Desiree Carino, 44, a new resident and Boston transplant. "I have always liked Baltimore. But seeing things now. ... Wow! The city has really changed for the better."
Housing Harbor East has luxury condos and apartment buildings, with an aesthetic vibe that some say conjures up Miami's South Beach, complete with rooftop pools and pricey real estate. Prices range from the high $200,000s to $4.6 million for a 4,000-square-foot penthouse.
"Our buyers have primarily been young professionals with really [high] incomes, empty-nesters and second-home buyers," says Ross McWilliams, a Realtor with McWilliams Ballard, which has offices in Alexandria and Washington, D.C. "Properties have been moving well," he said. At The Vue, for instance, all but 10 units have been sold.
Other Harbor East residences include Spinnaker Bay, 850 Aliceanna, The Promenade and The Eden, an upscale apartment building that straddles Harbor East and Fells Point.
Although McWilliams says the bulk of his clients "come from the Baltimore area," the cosmopolitan appeal of Harbor East has drawn people from all over.
"There are out-of-state residents coming and an international presence as well," H&S's Janian says.
Bill Davidow, 56, a corporate attorney, lives in a 14th-floor condo at The Vue. When the bachelor relocated from Columbia in February, he was intrigued by the prospect of living in Harbor East.
"It was kind of an experiment, an adventure," he says. "I moved down here because I wanted to downsize and also see what it was like to live in the city."
Crime Security personnel are often highly visible, especially around the main hub of the neighborhood on President Street. While the Baltimore City Police Department's Web site did not show specific data on Harbor East, its crime map does show the neighboring Inner Harbor area. No violent crime was indicated in October, but incidents included a robbery, a handful of burglaries and stolen vehicles and multiple larcenies from cars.
Schools There are no schools within Harbor East proper, which Realtor McWilliams attributes to most residents being "mostly singles and young or older couples." Public school students are served by City Springs Elementary and Middle School and Heritage High School. According to mdreportcard.org, neither school has met state Adequate Yearly Progress standards for 2008.
Transportation Developers aimed to make Harbor East a "self-sufficient, walkable urban neighborhood," says Janian, one that's accessible to nearby waterfront and other communities such as Fells Point, Canton and Little Italy. There are also bus routes and a subway station nearby.
"A lot of doctors from Mercy Hospital and [Johns] Hopkins have chosen Harbor East because they can ride their bikes to work," says Kimberly Huskins, an associate broker with Yerman, Witman, Gaines & Conklin Realty's Federal Hill office.
Shopping Boutiques and shops in Harbor East are outposts for clothing (Urban Chic, South Moon Under), shoes (Benjamin Lovell Shoes) plus hip and exotic accessories (Handbags and the City, Kashmir Imports). Other stores carry deluxe home furnishings, sporting goods and gourmet chocolates. There's also a CVS/Pharmacy.
Dining in Whole Foods Market is the anchor grocery store in Harbor East; and wine enthusiasts have a wide selection at Bin 604. There's a municipal market with fresh produce and seafood in Fells Point and several ethnic markets there and in Little Italy.
Dining out Options range from Lebanese fare and sushi to crab cakes at the Marriott Waterfront hotel's restaurant. Some popular upscale restaurants include Oceanaire Seafood Room, Roy's, Charleston and Cinghiale. More casual spots include James Joyce Irish Pub Restaurant, Teavolve and Taco Fiesta.
Night life A seven-screen art cinema, Landmark Theatres - Harbor East, opened last fall. Pazo, a Mediterranean restaurant, has a disc jockey and bustling lounge area. Other fun venues nearby include Mustang Alley, which has upscale bowling lanes, and the Power Plant Live complex, which has assorted clubs, all within walking distance.
Recreation The Maryland Athletic Club, known as MAC, is popular among residents. Spa Sante offers beauty/wellness services. The neighborhood also boasts a 200-slip marina. Joggers, bikers and dog-walkers can be seen along the waterfront promenade that links Harbor East with the Inner Harbor.
"I walk everywhere, to the grocery store, to the shops and restaurants," says Carino. "It's a great community."
harbor east by the numbers
ZIP codes: 21202, 21231
Homes on the market: 23*
Average sale price: $253,887 (21202), $284,112 (21231)**
Average days on market: 172 (21202), 166 (21231)**
*Within Harbor East boundaries
**Information based on sales during the past 12 months, compiled by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.