Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said Wednesday that he would like to see the struggling Harborplace mall at the Inner Harbor “torn down and redone.”
“I would love to see it replaced,” Young told reporters at his weekly City Hall news briefing. He described a rough vision for an entertainment district similar to the National Harbor development in Prince George’s County.
Last week a city judge ordered the mall into receivership after owners Ashkenazy Acquisitions Corp. defaulted on a mortgage. A number of tenants have left the four-decade-old shopping center, leaving the owners struggling to pay their bills while planned renovations dragged on.
The city owns the land, but the judge’s order paves the way for the two retail pavillions along Light and Pratt streets to be sold. Young acknowledged that the future of the site would lie with any new owner, but said he’d want to talk to them about a new concept involving shops, restaurants, a Ferris wheel and a merry-go-round.
Young said he’d be open to the city selling the land.
“I would like to see a mixture of everything there,” Young said. “Whoever buys it, it’s up to them but I would like to have those conversations.”
Young said he expected the quasi-public Baltimore Development Corp. to meet with the receiver.
Council President Brandon Scott said he saw the receivership as an opportunity to find a new owner who “truly understands Baltimore.” Scott said he’d like to see the site become a showcase for local businesses.
“Think about all the … restaurants across the city that could use that kind of exposure, putting them where people who are coming from around the world can come to see them,” he said.
Breaking News Alerts Newsletter
As it happens
Get updates on the coronavirus pandemic and other news as it happens with our free breaking news email alerts.
The mayor said he met with Ashkenazy representatives recently when he traveled to Las Vegas for a retail conversation. Young said they told him about the impending receivership but said they expected to retain control of the mall. He was “shocked” when the judge’s order seemed to lay out a different path.
Harborplace helped spur tourism in Baltimore after it opened in 1980. Ashkenazy bought it in 2012 and owed $67 million on the mall as of March. Deutsche Bank, the trustee for the mortgage holders, asked a judge to appoint a receiver in an April petition. The bank alleged that Ashkenazy defaulted on its loan by missing a March payment and failing to pay a judgment in a lawsuit brought by a tenant. Deutsche Bank also said some vendors had gone unpaid for months.
Neither Ashkenazy nor IVL Group, the receiver, responded to a request for comment.
In recent weeks, the area around the shopping center has been the focus of a debate about who has access to public space in Baltimore. Over Memorial Day weekend, sporadic fights among teenagers were greeted with a heavy police presence.
While the mayor emphasized the harbor’s role in luring tourists, he said Wednesday that young city residents should also feel welcome there.
“The harbor belongs to them, too,” Young said. “They're citizens of Baltimore. But we want you to be respectful and act appropriately, because the way you act determines whether we’re going to have visitors coming back.”