Renovations began this week to transform the Baltimore Visitor Center into an event space that the city's tourism bureau hopes is used by as many local residents as tourists.
An $800,000 project is underway to remove the permanent brochure racks from the Inner Harbor building and open its main room to create a functional event space. The glass building will still function primarily as an information source for visitors, but it will also allow for alternative uses such as convention receptions and private parties.
"It's not just for tourists anymore — locals can use it," said Tom Noonan, CEO of Visit Baltimore.
When the center opened in 2004, visitors were primarily getting their information about tourist attractions through physical brochures, so the space was constructed with a series of permanent racks for them. Now that information is primarily accessed through mobile devices, those racks are defunct.
After the renovations are complete, the building brochures and tourist information will be kept in carts on wheels, so they can be moved out to create an open space. Noonan estimates the building could accommodate up to 500 people, though he hasn't been given a cap yet from the fire department.
Rental fees for the space have not been determined, but Noonan said those proceeds will go to the Visit Baltimore Education & Training Foundation, which provides scholarships for local students seeking higher education in hospitality.
In addition to opening the building up as event venue, the renovation, which is set to wrap up by March, will also upgrade the televisions and other technology in the center.
"It kind of gives the building a second life which it really needs," Noonan said.
The revamp is part of a series of changes underway at the Inner Harbor. The USS Constellation Museum is being transformed to a new water taxi terminal, according to the Baltimore City Department of Transportation. Additionally, the Harborplace pavilions along Pratt and Light streets are slated for an overhaul, and new vendors like Yard House are already moving into retail spaces there. Rash Field is in the midst of a redesign, too.