Baltimore City Hall to reopen in early April after two-year pandemic closure

Baltimore City Hall, seemingly one of the last remaining public buildings shuttered by the COVID pandemic, will reopen the first week of April, city officials announced Thursday.

The public space, closed since March 2020, will open its doors on April 4. A meeting of Baltimore City Council that day will be open to the public as will a Board of Estimates meeting scheduled for April 6, Mayor Brandon Scott said in a news release.


Public pressure to reopen the building has intensified in recent weeks after the city lifted its indoor mask mandate. San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia all reopened their city halls last summer. Boston, however, waited until February.

Scott argued repeatedly during the pandemic that Baltimore City Hall, built in 1875, should remain closed for health reasons because it was not designed with social distancing in mind. Neither, however, were many other regional public buildings such as courthouses or the Maryland State House in Annapolis, both of which reopened last year. Baltimore’s libraries also reopened in early 2021.

The exterior of Baltimore City Hall on Wednesday, March 8.

Last year, Scott formed a committee of city officials to discuss plans to have city employees return to the job and eventually reopen the building. A first phase of public-facing employees returned to City Hall and other city buildings in August, followed by a second phase in mid-October.

The full restoration of in-person services, slated for January, was halted by the onset of the omicron variant. Employees who had been working in person were sent home again.

On February 28, the city’s finance services again reopened to the public, including bill-paying windows in the Abel Wolman Municipal Building next to City Hall.

The constant throughout the pandemic, however, has been the closure of City Hall, where meetings of Baltimore City Council and the Board of Estimates are held as well as zoning, planning and liquor control board meetings. Those sessions instead have been held virtually, a format that has mixed reviews.

Some, including Scott, felt the virtual meetings increased participation, making daytime sessions more accessible to the city’s 9-to-5 working population and those lacking transportation. For others, the lack of face-to-face contact has hampered communication between residents and the lawmakers who represent them, particularly the loss of conversations before and after meetings when business happens informally.

Virtual meetings have been fraught with problems that have lingered despite years of practice. Earlier this week, the absence of a City Council member was not revealed until the end of a meeting, despite a roll call at the start. Last week, a feed of the Board of Estimates abruptly cut off, leaving residents in the dark about how the meeting ended.

In June, the Board of Estimates was forced to conduct a repeat meeting after links to join were incorrectly advertised.

In hopes of maintaining some level of pandemic participation in meetings, officials plan a hybrid meeting format where the public will be able to attend meetings in person or participate virtually, city officials said.


Supply chain issues have delayed the arrival of some technology needed to make that happen immediately. Until then, the Board of Estimates will offer a temporary solution for remote testimony, according to the mayor’s news release. Testifying at some public meetings will be limited temporarily to in-person participants only, officials said.

“While it is important that we restore in-person access to government meetings and officials, it is just as important that we not deprive people of the virtual access they have come to expect,” Comptroller Bill Henry said.

City Council President Nick Mosby, who is responsible for conducting council meetings as well as chairing the Board of Estimates, was not included in Thursday’s news release.

In a written statement, Mosby told The Sun this week “the council will adhere to the decision of Mayor Scott and be prepared to conduct in-person meetings when City Hall is opened to the public.”

“We are eager to work with the administration and look forward to building on the progress of legislative openness and transparency made over the past couple of years,” he added.

Scott has said consistently that decisions related to the pandemic would be based on the science and made in consultation with the city’s health department.


After new cases surged amid the wave fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant in December and January, they’ve dropped off since and spread of the virus is considered low throughout much of Maryland, including Baltimore. The city is averaging about 4.3 new cases a day per 100,000 residents, while the state is averaging about 5.2 new cases, according to state data.

While the city’s indoor mask mandate has been lifted, masks will be required during public meetings inside City Hall. Visitors to the building will be subject to a health screening to enter.

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Asked why it took nearly two years to announce a reopening plan for City Hall, officials with the mayor’s office said the time was needed to “ensure that reopening will be done safely with the proper protocols and distancing measures in place.”

“We wanted to give the council, comptroller and city agencies and departments time to bring their staff back into the building and ensure that they are prepared to handle in-person engagement with the public,” said James Bentley, spokesman for Scott.

Councilwoman Odette Ramos said the impact of City Hall’s extended closure on the council has been less of a problem with constituent service and more of an issue communicating with one another. Ramos is one of five first-term council members who were sworn in — outdoors — during the height of the pandemic and have never met in City Council chambers.

“The major impact has been, frankly, we have not been able to work as colleagues,” she said.


Roger Hartley, dean of the University of Baltimore’s College of Public Affairs, said city residents have been patient as the mayor explained a health rationale for the building’s closure. But pressure to reopen City Hall mounted after the mask mandate was lifted, he said.

“There’s always concern that City Hall and all the public servants who work for the citizens start to become distanced from the citizens in their inability to see them and get in front of them,” Hartley said. “All those things, it can lead us to feel isolated. When governments are isolated from citizens, sometimes in history, that’s led to bad things happening.”

“I think most of our public servants want to really interact with people,” Hartley added.