ARCHER DANIELS Midland's decision last week to shift its grain exports to Virginia effectively ends a 130-year shipping tradition that played a defining role in Maryland's economic development.
The big question now is what will happen to the vast Locust Point waterfront property if the ADM grain elevator closes for good. Will the deep-water piers be used for other shipping needs, or will the site become an office park or luxury housing development?
For more than a century, from 1872 to the 1970s, the grain trade flourished in Baltimore, benefiting the development of the whole state. But railroads then changed a tariff structure that had made this port advantageous for shipping Midwestern grain. One by one, elevators closed, until only one was left, the ADM plant in North Locust Point.
A storm put that 60-year-old elevator out of commission in June of last year, raising all kinds of questions about investments needed for the deep-water pier. When they could not be resolved, ADM struck a deal that shifts its grain shipments to Chesapeake, Va.
Changing railroad operating patterns and cost factors probably would have made the giant agro-conglomerate's exit inevitable sooner or later. So far, ADM has not divulged any information about what it plans to do with the hulking elevator and the surrounding property.
For a number of years now, Locust Point's waterfront industries have been in the throes of change. When an old detergent manufacturing plant closed, it was converted into a high-tech incubator with dramatic views of the downtown skyline. An abandoned Coca-Cola plant is in the midst of a similar transformation.
Meanwhile, Locust Point's modest blue-collar rowhouses have struck the fancy of moneyed homebuyers. Skyrocketing prices have also spurred new construction.
Even though Domino Sugar remains as an industrial landmark, the Locust Point waterfront is changing. The smokestack industries are almost gone.
In a last-ditch effort to cling to the past - and protect blue-collar jobs - the City Council more than a decade ago decreed that the Locust Point waterfront should be restricted for industrial uses.
In light of ADM's pullout, that decision should be re-examined so that the area can be redeveloped to the best and most beneficial economic use.