How Charm City’s once-iconic landmark lost its shine

BALTIMORE – At one time, Harborplace was a bustling market in the center of Charm City. But over the past decade it has struggled to attract customers, eventually causing some businesses and restaurants to shut down completely.

It wasn’t always so for the mall, the idea began in 1963 when Baltimore Mayor Theodore McKeldin called for a new Inner Harbor neighborhood, an exciting panorama of office buildings, parks, skyscrapers and marinas.

It was in 1967 that the city council approved the redevelopment of the port.

Fast forward 11 years, and promoter James Rouse has come up with an attractive offer for the city.

The founder of The Rouse Company proposed a bustling urban market built with $18 million in private funding with a focus on food venues and windows to the harbor.

The proposal said the city would create about 1,800 new jobs and more than $650,000 a year in tax revenue.

Not everyone was entirely in favor of development.

An opposition group called Citizens for the Preservation of the Inner Harbor collected signatures that forced a referendum vote in November 1978.

“Open space in the Harbor View is a public trust,” they argued. “[It’s] not intended for commercialization. If you must build, do it elsewhere.

After an intensely contested campaign, Harborplace was approved by a margin of 16,000 votes and in July 1980 opened to a crowd of thousands.

Over the next few years, a number of attractions and businesses made their way to the area, with the National Aquarium opening in August 1981 and the Gallery opening in September 1987.

In November 2004, Rouse Company was sold to General Growth Properties for $12.4 billion. Just five years later, General Growth Properties filed for bankruptcy in one of the largest Chapter 11 bankruptcy cases in US history.

Over the next few years, Harborplace was acquired by Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp for nearly $100 million.

After struggling with empty storefronts, Harborplace faced financial uncertainty when it was placed into court-ordered receivership. Later, IVL Group was appointed to oversee it.

Hoping to revive downtown, Baltimore-based MCB Real Estate reached a deal with the city in April 2022.

Mayor Brandon Scott said he believes this agreement is a new chapter for the city.

“Bringing the Baltimore Vision, Baltimore Community Investment and Baltimore Style to transform Harborplace into a historic destination where residents can enjoy the best we have to offer – thriving small businesses, green spaces and cultural places,” he said.

Although plans for the revitalization of the area have not yet been detailed, there is hope that the former national monument can regain its charm.

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