It certainly wasn't the Ride the Ducks tour.
Instead of the Inner Harbor or Camden Yards or any of Charm City's usual sights, a caravan of buses bearing more than 200 developers, real estate brokers, architects and planners rode past derelict and hard-at-work factories, boarded-up houses and huge swaths of vacant land. They surveyed parking lots with potential. They saw gleaming new offices and medical centers and apartments in buildings converted from something else.
Most of all, they were on the lookout for opportunities. The city-sponsored real estate tour, an annual event to spark interest in investing, shied away from the better-known areas downtown, focusing instead on redevelopment that is spreading east, west and south and transforming old industrial areas.
"What you're seeing today is not the glamour tour; it's the unglamour tour," M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., one of the sponsors, told tour participants. "It's the opportunities of tomorrow. The next decade could be Baltimore's time."
At a time when some developers are rethinking plans launched during a booming housing market, many of the large-scale projects spreading along Baltimore's waterfront are pushing ahead, aggressively seeking tenants or property owners.
Among the projects pointed out were half a dozen that are either planned or under way representing investments of nearly $3.31 billion and more than 11 million square feet of new construction ranging from offices to shops to hotels to housing.
"One of the things that gives me great confidence is what's going on with employment and jobs," said C. William Struever, president and chief executive of Struever Bros. Eccles and Rouse Inc., a co-developer of the planned Harbor Point next to Harbor East on the former AlliedSignal site.
He told tour participants that office leasing has grown this year for his company. "If you've got growth in office, you've got growth in jobs and it's an energizer for other segments in real estate."
At Harbor Point, work should start on an office building in a matter of weeks, marking the first construction in the $700 million community. On the old industrial Westport waterfront, the clearing of shuttered factories is well under way for a $1.4 billion community of offices, shops, homes and a hotel. And huge biotechnology parks are under construction in conjunction with Johns Hopkins on the east side and the University of Maryland on the west side.
"I think it's amazing," said Deborah K. Weinman, director of mixed-use development for Arlington, Va.,-based Archstone Smith, a developer eyeing the Baltimore market. "Baltimore has come a long way."
Weinman said she took the tour to try to learn about the city's commercial market and meet people familiar with available development sites. "We're pursuing it because of the potential opportunities," she said.
The tour wound through the industrial areas of Canton and Fairfield, where the city is offering sites for redevelopment and expects more to open up. In Rosemont, the city hopes to attract developers to take on the Acme Business Center and redevelop it as a single-use or mixed-use facility.
The caravan made its way through Westport and the Carroll Camden Industrial area, where acres of old industrial buildings and warehouses south of M&T; Bank Stadium will be razed to make way for Gateway South. The $200 million office park will include shops., recreational facilities and a new city bus terminal.
City officials showed their vision as well for State Center in midtown, the state's aging office complex slated to become an $800 million, transit-oriented redevelopment of offices, homes and shops.
Cyril Crocker, of Washington-based Thor Equities, came looking for urban shopping centers to buy and redevelop, and to meet brokers and landlords. With greater interest in urban retail, "The shopping centers are hard to find, and it's pretty competitive," Crocker said during a stop at the Baltimore Rowing Club.
There, developer Patrick Turner hosted the group and offered views of his Westport site just across the Middle Branch from the rowing club on Waterview Avenue. "Baltimore is a great market," he said.
Local developers said the city's annual tour has become yet another way to promote their projects.
"It's helpful in a wider audience gaining an understanding of what's going on, and the real power of what's happening in downtown Baltimore," said Larry White, who heads the Harbor Point project for Struever Bros. "Whether it is producing anything for us in terms of tenants, we've yet to see, but that's longer term. The more people that know about it, the more excitement builds and the more buzz there is, and the better it is for everyone in the city."