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After a year of delays, Baltimore Inner Harbor water taxi terminal, USS Constellation Museum should be finished by early winter

After a year of delays, the $4 million Baltimore Water Taxi terminal and USS Constellation Museum under construction on Pier 1 in the Inner Harbor should be finished by the end of the year, officials say.

The project, which was supposed to be finished by the end of 2020, is now expected to wrap in late fall or early winter, said German Vigil, a spokesman for the Baltimore City Department of Transportation, which is overseeing construction.

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A series of factors caused delays, “including design issues with the designer/architect, delays with acquiring demolition/building permits, and various construction issues with concrete pours, welding of structural steel, etc.,” the city transportation spokesman said.

“We also had some delays because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Vigil said in an email.

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Officials hope the new terminal and museum will be a bright spot in a beleaguered Inner Harbor that has seen businesses close during the pandemic and its 40-year-old Harborplace pavilions placed in a court-appointed receivership since 2019.

The redeveloped pier will offer access to the privately operated Water Taxi service but will not initially be served by the city’s free Harbor Connector boats, Vigil said. “We are looking to expand Harbor Connector services in the future to this location,” he said.

A rendering shows the planned $4 million Baltimore Water Taxi terminal and USS Constellation museum under construction in the Inner Harbor's Pier I. The building is expected to be completed this fall. Courtesy of Living Classrooms
A rendering shows the planned $4 million Baltimore Water Taxi terminal and USS Constellation museum under construction in the Inner Harbor's Pier I. The building is expected to be completed this fall. Courtesy of Living Classrooms (Courtesy of Living Classrooms)

The Baltimore Water Taxi, which was purchased by Under Armour founder Kevin Plank in 2016, could not be reached for comment on the project.

It was paid for with a $2 million federal grant, $1 million from the Maryland Department of General Services, and half a million from both the Baltimore Development Corp. and the city DOT, Vigil said.

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More significant progress on the 4,000-foot, glass-enclosed building will be visible over the next month or so, said Chris Rowsom, vice president of the Living Classrooms Foundation and executive director of its Historic Ships in Baltimore program.

“We’ll start to see more things taking shape, and it’ll start to look less like a skeleton and more like a building,” Rowsom said.

A water taxi cruises by the new water taxi station and U.S.S. Constellation museum, which are still under construction in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. 07.01.21.
A water taxi cruises by the new water taxi station and U.S.S. Constellation museum, which are still under construction in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. 07.01.21. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Sun)

The finished building will feature bathrooms, a first-floor gift shop and a museum teaching the history of the U.S. Navy’s last sail-only warship, with a century-old, 4-foot-long model ship, sailors’ uniforms, old photos of crew members and other historic artifacts, he said.

Elevators will carry visitors to the building’s rooftop deck, where they can board the 1854 sloop-of-war, making the experience Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible, Rowsom said.

About $250,000 of the $2 million federal grant for the project was spent on improvements to the Baltimore Water Taxi station in Fells Point, but the Inner Harbor project was not scaled back because of it, Rowsom said. The Charles T. Bauer Foundation also contributed $500,000 to the effort, he said.

Unforeseen challenges at the Constellation pier included having to bring in some demolition and construction materials and equipment by barge, he said.

“It’s a very challenging site, doing work out on that pier,” he said. “Doing anything more than we are doing right now was just gonna get very, very expensive.”

The Living Classrooms Foundation expects to get the building keys around mid-November, after the summertime tourist season, but in time for a soft opening before it begins hosting events and larger crowds next spring.

Visitations to the ship, which is tied up nearby, reached pre-pandemic levels in June, Rowsom said.

The Constellation has already hosted one wedding this year after reopening in April, and the museum building should soon be able to begin booking events for next spring, Rowsom said.

“It’s not really mission-oriented, but the revenue from those events helps us keep the ships afloat,” he said.

Rowsom noted it will join other new Inner Harbor amenities, such as the redevelopments of Rash Field and West Shore Park. He’s looking forward to resuming this fall an educational program in which students and scouts can spend a night aboard the Constellation, sleeping in hammocks and learning about the ship.

“It feels good and makes me optimistic for the future,” Rowsom said.

Laurie Schwartz, president of the Waterfront Partnership, which cleans and promotes the Inner Harbor as a destination, is excited to see the new building completed.

In the old configuration, people in line for the water taxi or the Constellation had to contend with crowds that gathered at the Harborplace Amphitheater, she said. The building will “elevate the importance of the water taxi to the harbor” and better showcase the historic ship, she said.

“It’s just one additional new feature that we hope will attract Baltimoreans and visitors back to the harbor,” Schwartz said.

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