The Web site for the Black-Eyed Susan paddlewheel boat boasts that the views of Baltimore's skyline from its canopied deck are spectacular. But some residents of Fells Point, where the Mississippi River-type boat has docked for the past three years, say their view is ruined by that canopied deck.
In recent letters to Mayor Sheila Dixon and City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, residents object to a plan by the city to extend the boat's wharfage contract for another three years, complaining that the boat blocks views of the water and doesn't match the neighborhood's East Coast seaport theme.
In his letter of opposition, Arthur D. Perschetz, president of the Fell's Point Residents Association, argued that the Broadway Pier, where the boat docks, is one of the last places in the city where the public can sit by the water. The Black-Eyed Susan, he said, takes away from that experience.
"The pier has for many years been the centerpiece of the area," Perschetz wrote in this letter. "People from all over the city and especially the Fell's Point and Upper Fell's Point areas visit it to enjoy the beauty and majesty of the harbor."
Another Fells Point resident, Robert Keith, called the boat "big and bulky."
"It just doesn't fit - it is a Mississippi River boat, not a Chesapeake Bay vessel," Keith said. "And it really does block the view."
Some Fells Point business owners have a different opinion of the Black-Eyed Susan. The Fells Point Development Group has come out in support of the boat, saying it raises the profile of the neighborhood and brings in new customers. Some business owners say that residents who oppose the boat are too narrowly focused on historic preservation.
"It comes down to economic development," said Claudia Towles, the owner of aMuse Toys in Fells Point and board chairman of the development group. "The more attractions that the area has, the more ability it has to attract visitors. The Black- Eyed Susan has wedding and corporate parties. They bring in a different clientele to Fells Point."
City officials haven't taken a stand on the contract, but they agreed yesterday to delay a vote on the wharfage agreement for several weeks to review the residents' concerns.
The issue is scheduled for discussion at a July 2 Board of Estimates meeting.
Rawlings-Blake said she was troubled by letters and e-mail she received from residents because they seemed to indicate a lack of communication between the city's Department of Real Estate, which is handling the wharfage contract, and Fells Point residents.
"I ... have requested that the Real Estate Department use this opportunity to allow for more community input in order to ensure that neighborhood concerns are addressed," she said in an e-mail statement.
The owner of the Black-Eyed Susan, Leonard Schleider, said he is baffled by the community's reaction to his catering business on the water. Under the proposed agreement, he would pay the city 4 percent of his gross revenue, up to $25,000 a year, to dock his boat in Fells Point. He said most of his business consists of weddings, private affairs and corporate meetings, not "booze cruises." Schleider said there is a similar paddlewheel boat on the Potomac River, which also has a Colonial history.
"The Black-Eyed Susan enhances the community, and it is a dignified attraction," said Schleider, who also ran the Harbor Belle, a sidewheel replica boat that he sold several years ago. "We don't block anything."
Sail Baltimore, a nonprofit that produces a free program of visiting ships and maritime events, is also backing Schleider, according to a report by the Department of Real Estate. Schleider is a member of Sail Baltimore's board of directors. City officials also noted in the report that the Fells Point community allows a pirate-themed boat named Fearless to dock at a wharf at the end of Ann Street.
Fells Point resident Keith said that the pirate boat is different from the Black-Eyed Susan because it doesn't dock in the area overnight.
Of the paddlewheel boat, he said: "We just don't like it there."