The word at the Inner Harbor was, The British Are Coming. But Francis Scott Key -- let alone Paul Revere -- was nowhere in sight, because the British are coming to France. So the French came to Baltimore.
The reason? The French are preparing for an invasion of British tourists when the auto tunnel under the English Channel is finished next year.
So about 15 business and government leaders came here to take a closer look at Baltimore's harbor in hopes that this city's experience can help out an old fishing and manufacturing city that has seen better times, as had pre-Harborplace Baltimore.
The French delegation hopes the "Chunnel" will help the northwest French city of Boulogne-Sur-Mer galvanize its redevelopment. This week's trip through Baltimore, Annapolis, Washington and Atlantic City, N.J., will show them how to capture the attention of some of the 30 million Chunnel users who are expected to pass through the area each year.
"Boulogne-Sur-Mer is a very industrial city and a very industrial harbor," said Philippe Maud'Hui, development manager for the Cote d'Opale Tourist Development Board, who said regional leaders have already studied redevelopment models in Europe. "We think Baltimore was in the same position in the 1960s and managed to convert important sites to tourism."
"We've discovered that the image of the city can be the magnet for change of every activity in the city," said Dominique Dupilet, the leader of the French delegation and the mayor of Wimereux, a small beach resort town near Boulogne-Sur-Mer, which itself is 15 minutes' drive from the French entrance to the Chunnel.
Mr. Maud'Hui said Baltimore's redevelopment was interesting because of the intricate public-private networks that pushed the redevelopment of the Pratt Street and Charles Center corridors.
Thursday's 12-hour working tour of downtown Baltimore brought the group from a morning lecture by Martin Millspaugh, vice chairman of Enterprise International Development Co. in Columbia and former head of the public-private Charles Center-Inner Harbor Development Inc., to a tour of the National Aquarium, a boat tour of the port and a briefing from Jeff Middlebrooks, executive vice president of Baltimore Development Corp.