All things change -- and often for the better


A SMILE CROSSED my face when the debate erupted over building a Bubba Gump's shrimp restaurant between the National Aquarium and the Power Plant. There were denunciations, moral outrage and aesthetic breast-beating.

I wouldn't want to smell shrimp being steamed on a humid July afternoon as I waited in line at the aquarium, but I can't see how one more restaurant could undermine the harbor.

I chuckle at Baltimoreans' resistance to change. Remember, there was a referendum on whether to build Harborplace. It won, but a lot of people were against it. The National Aquarium was put to the test, too. It also won, but not without overcoming plenty of Baltimore skepticism.

We don't like change in this town, and that's one of the qualities that makes Baltimore the place it is. We have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into whatever decade we're living in. When I was a child, there were people who thought the expense of building Memorial Stadium was unjustified.

I laugh at the reports that huge entertainment conglomerates -- Disney, Hard Rock Cafe, Planet Hollywood -- are gobbling up Baltimore. I'm sorry. Was having the Limited in Harborplace any more satisfactory than having Planet Hollywood? (I walked though Planet Hollywood, didn't buy a thing, but was fascinated by a wool, officer's dress coat on display from the movie "Titanic.")

Some people think the big guitar on the Hard Rock Cafe is tacky. Is an empty building any better? And aren't the lines of people waiting to gain entry to these hyped-up restaurants better than a depressing, empty harbor, a place of rotting wharves and nothing to do? What about all the local people employed along Pratt Street? And what about the bus-loads of people who blanket an area that was once considered a municipal joke?

My own feelings about the harbor have changed over the years. I, too, am a skeptical Baltimorean. I voted against Harborplace and the aquarium and have lived to see my old feelings change.

Over the past two decades, I've watched as the attractions we had in the early 1980s -- and the original conception of Harborplace -- have changed. It's convinced me that change is better than stagnation.

Most Baltimoreans I know say they avoid the harbor. At the very least, they bristle at paying for harbor parking. They claim we're being swallowed by huge corporations. They say "no."

I say let the large corporations seeking to do business here give it a try. They'll fail or succeed on their own. Bubba Gump's will be a hit or a miss. Baltimore's redeveloped harbor is strong enough to weather either verdict.

The Power Plant, after all, is back after the embarrassing, $25 million failure under the Six Flags ownership a decade ago.

I also wonder how many of the nay-sayers who feel that the character of the Inner Harbor is being sacrificed actually support the long-time Baltimore attractions, the places that hold on valiantly.

How many go to lunch at the Woman's Exchange on Charles Street? How many go for a weekend ride at the Baltimore Streetcar Museum? How many walk around the sea wall at Fort McHenry? How many visit Druid Hill Park? How many have ever been to a race at Pimlico or Laurel? How many have strolled along Charles Street and taken in the sights of Mount Vernon? How many have walked the aisles of Lexington Market?

Not enough, I'd say.

Pub Date: 7/25/98

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