Real estate developer David Bramble asked Baltimoreans for their potentially million-dollar ideas regarding renovations to Harborplace, the mostly vacant twin pavilions in the Inner Harbor on Saturday morning.
Bramble, a managing partner of MCB Real Estate, which struck a deal to acquire Harborplace out of receivership in April 2022, hosted a community meeting at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum asking locals for what they would hope to see from the developers.
The crowd, seated throughout round tables, were prompted with a sheet of questions: What is one of your favorite memories from spending time in and around Harborplace in the past? When you walk into the new Harborplace, what might you see that would make you feel proud that this is your home city? What needs to happen to make it easy and accessible for you to come enjoy Harborplace? Wild card: Think big, creative brainstorming for one minute: If you had a magic wand and could make one thing appear at Harborplace right now, what would you wish for?
Before breaking out into small group discussions, Bramble pledged to add uniqueness currently missing from Harborplace.
“It became something you could find in any mall or any airport concession stand,” Bramble said. “That’s not what we want.”
Around 150 attendees called for aerial trams, boardwalks and food courts to replace the aging pavilion that first opened in the 1980s — while nostalgically remembering the days when it used to be the shopping and eating centerpiece of downtown.
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“The waterfall is gone. The bridge is gone. Now it’s dead, it literally lost its soul,” said Michael Hairston Jr., who attended the community meeting with his second-grade goddaughter. “I want her to have something. When I was younger it was so much fun. You need stuff for these kids to do. Right now the kids don’t have anything to do.”
Earl Bravo, who is a 75-year-old retired investment banker, said he has lived in the Inner Harbor since the 1990s and watched too many restaurants close.
“The corporate development with bigger companies coming in has meant the small businesses have not been able to afford it. We’ve seen too many small businesses, particularly restaurants, come and go,” Bravo said. “They can’t afford it, it’s too expensive. The city or these developers need to do something to help out there.”
In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, during the small group discussions, Bramble said he is still rounding up capital investments and could not estimate the project’s final cost, though he tentatively hopes to begin construction by summer 2025. Maryland taxpayers are poised to foot $67.5 million of the bill.
“The most important thing you want to do for this project is make people feel like the project is theirs,” Bramble said. “I can build anything, but if people don’t use it, it will fail.”
A New York-based company bought Harborplace in the 2010s for about $100 million, but defaulted on a $76-million loan, sending the property into receivership in 2019. An appraisal conducted last summer placed 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.
Gabriel Auteri, a spokesperson from public relations firm Just Economy contracted by MCB, said they are organizing other community events regarding the development focused on seniors and youth while another will be hosted outside downtown.