Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke wasted no time in throwing his support behind a $12.5 million plan to build a make-believe canal in the middle of Market Place. If everything goes well, this Venice on the Patapsco ought to be ready for the 1997 tourist season, complete with a fleet of old-time barges and fishing schooners doubling as vendors' kiosks and outdoor cafes.
What's going on here?
It may have taken Mr. Schmoke nearly six years, but he has finally come up with an economic development strategy for Baltimore City. That strategy calls for more emphasis on building up the city's tourism, entertainment and cultural attractions, which have developed into a $1 billion industry since the opening of Harborplace in 1980. More than 12,000 people are employed in hospitality-generated jobs. "It is vitally important that we continue to stimulate new opportunities in urban tourism," Mr. Schmoke said last month when he created a new Advisory Commission on Tourism, Entertainment and Culture.
Baltimoreans are so close to the scene that they often do not see what outsiders see. While residents are preoccupied with local manifestations of such nationwide phenomena as rising crime rates, out-of-town visitors take a more detached view. They see an expanding Inner Harbor with a lot more development potential. The Schmoke administration has now chosen as its priority development target an area that previously flopped as an entertainment magnet.
It wants to turn the Brokerage complex, which the city bought at a fire sale, into a multi-faceted attraction for children. It is threatening the owners of the boarded-up Fishmarket next door with condemnation unless they reopen that emporium soon. Meanwhile, the $161 million Christopher Columbus Center for Marine Research is taking shape across Pratt Street and is slated for a 1995 opening. In addition to research facilities, it will have exhibits for the general public. With luck, the padlocked Power Plant building could also be in business by that time as a virtual-reality sports extravaganza.
"We feel the time is now for the whole area to be successful," Mr. Schmoke said last week, referring to such additional developments as a new Metro station nearby and the Baltimore City Community College expansion plan.
Many long-time Baltimoreans doubted that the initial Inner Harbor plans in the 1970s would succeed. They did. This is the time to go forward. As the grunt saying does: No guts, no glory.