It was a Baltimore shipyard christening, 1990s style: The bottle of champagne shattered not on the bow of a ship but against the side of a condominium tower.
About 3,000 people gathered last night at the old Key Highway Shipyard in South Baltimore to mark the grand opening of developer Richard A. Swirnow's 100 HarborView Drive, a 27-story building topped by a 50-foot-high beacon. Mr. Swirnow's wife, Rae, wielded the champagne bottle.
There were a few nautical touches: oysters and clams on the half-shell, smoked salmon, a three-masted schooner made of watermelons and filled with luscious fruit, and a band playing Latin jazz aboard a cabin cruiser in the HarborView marina.
But the event was essentially an attempt to market stylish harbor-front living to landlubbers.
"We've got to help him sell," Gov. William Donald Schaefer told the crowd that packed HarborView's promenades. "It's nice to have a building, but it needs people in it."
On one level, the grand opening was a glitzy sales pitch. (Available units at 100 HarborView Drive range in price from $161,000 to $1.7 mil
On another, it was an effort to kick-start a second phase of the Baltimore Renaissance, the back-to-the-city movement of the 1970s and 1980s that gave the Inner Harbor and environs an aquarium, a ballpark, a convention center and more.
"As you look out on this water," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said last night, "you see not only Baltimore's past but also our present and our future."
HarborView, which is planned to be a 1,590-unit, $600 million project at completion, is by far the largest single investment in waterfront housing ever to open in Baltimore. It is the first major residential development of the 1990s on the harbor and the first "town within a town" since Coldspring in Northwest Baltimore in the 1970s.
A successful HarborView would bolster Baltimore's tax base and be a harbinger of a 1990s boom. Another large waterfront development, Inner Harbor East, with up to 800 residences, is expected to take shape across the harbor during the decade.
If HarborView succeeds in firing a booster rocket to the Baltimore Renaissance, Mr. Swirnow says it will be because it has helped make the city an attractive place to live.
"The city can't survive if there's only daytime life and everybody goes home to the suburbs," he said yesterday in an interview. "There must be people of substance who live in the city."
What opened yesterday is a condominium that resembles a 1930s apartment house. Faced with peach-colored brick, the tower was constructed on a former dry dock at the old Bethlehem Steel Corp. shipyard.
The developer is HarborView Properties Development Co., a joint venture of the Swirnow Group of Baltimore and Parkway Holdings Ltd. of Singapore. The developer has spent more than $100 million on the property, including the first tower, a 1,000-car underground parking garage, a yacht club and 250-slip marina along a 1,000-foot pier.
The tower is the first residential phase of HarborView to open on the 42-acre property that stretches along a half-mile of prime harbor front.
The yacht club and marina, which opened in 1990, have already put HarborView on the Baltimore map by playing host to international regattas and by housing the popular Pier 500 restaurant. And the five-story beacon atop the tower has become a harbor landmark -- and the occasional object of derision -- since it was lighted in March.
"It is a beacon by which we would like to beckon you back to the city," Mr. Swirnow says.
Yesterday's opening marks the beginning of the last major push to market the first tower's 248 residences. About 90 units are reserved, and some buyers are expected to move in next month. Construction of a 20-story, 230-unit tower immediately west of the first is to begin when 75 percent of 100 HarborView Drive is sold.
Reviews from some visitors who toured the tower last night were mixed.
Reginald and Carol Turner, a retired couple from Odenton, were impressed.
"He says the only way I'm going to get him out of Odenton is in a box so I'm looking for a big box," said Mrs. Turner, who likes HarborView's location and the idea of city living.
"I think it's a tad bit high, but you only get what you pay for," Mr.
Frank Tribull, a federal worker from Glen Burnie, said he would decide by year's end whether to buy.
"You've got all the interstates, the downtown stadium, everything, but the view is No. 1. It's panoramic," he said.
Dr. Clayton Ajello, a Johns Hopkins physician, was disappointed.
"It's a beautiful building with absolutely spectacular views, but the units seem a little claustrophobic," he said. "For the price, size doesn't seem to be there."
Joan Harris, a resident of the Scarlett Place condos across the harbor, agreed.
"The only thing they have here is the views," she said.
HarborView is faced with breaking the recent jinx suffered by a string of high-rise condominiums that have ended up on the auction block, including the Colonnade, the St. James and Scarlett Place.
Mr. Swirnow says the quality and location of the HarborView project and generally attractive financial conditions, including
rates and high stock prices, distinguish it from other condo developments that have faltered.
"People who buy at the interest rates available now are getting more bang for their buck than they've ever gotten before and than they will ever get again," Mr. Swirnow said.
There have been so many auctions of luxury housing in recent years that some prospective buyers have joked that they are waiting for the auction of HarborView.
Mr. Swirnow quips that the auction already took place -- a reference to the December 1986 auction at which he bought the site for $24.4 million. He says there will be no other auction because his Asian investment partners have the resources to be patient about sales.
Now it will be up to the market to decide whether HarborView works. The development met with much South Baltimore neighborhood opposition, which forced the project to scale back plans that originally called for 3,500 residents and towers as high as 39 stories.
Mary Frances Garland, president of the Coalition of Peninsula Organizations, said residents still resent HarborView.
"From what I hear, they hate the building," she said yesterday. "It seems to dominate. No matter where you go, you see it. People are skeptical about the ability of the developer to sell the units, and they wonder what will happen if and when the units go to auction."
L Ms. Garland said she wasn't sorry to miss the grand opening.
"I think our invitations were lost in the mail," she said.