The Inner Harbor Story
by Martin L. Millspaugh
(Published in the April, 2003 Issue of Urban Land magazine)
here to download the original article (PDF, ~5.0 MB).
A model of urban waterfront development, Baltimore's Inner Harbor offers an unmatched
adventure in downtown revitalization.
In the opinion of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Baltimore's
Inner Harbor is “one of the supreme achievements of large-scale
urban design and development in U.S. history.” The Waterfront
Washington, D.C., clearinghouse of information, says it has become
“justly celebrated . . . a model for cities throughout North America
and, indeed, the world.”
As the favorite gathering place for residents and
for the 6.5 million tourists who visit Baltimore each year, the Inner
Harbor has brought tens of thousands of new jobs and many millions
of dollars per annum in increased taxes to the city. The buildup
is still continuing, with $550 million in new offices, hotels, residences,
and entertainment venues being completed or placed under construction
in the Inner Harbor area in 2001 and 2002.
It is hard to remember now that this same Inner Harbor
is the focal point of an old Rustbelt city that, in the 1950s and
1960s, was considered D.O.A. by travel agents; was described by native
son H.L. Mencken as “the ruins of a once-great medieval city”; and
was the source of a collective inferiority complex shared by almost
1 million, mostly blue-collar citizens. Baltimore was the eighth-largest,
and perhaps the least known, city in America. How all this changed
is one of the most fascinating adventure stories in modern urban
Phase I: Charles Center
By 1954, the first flight to the suburbs had prompted
a ten-year decline in downtown property values—and therefore a comparable
reduction in the city's tax revenues. Desperation was growing in
the leadership of the city's business community, which created a
Committee for Downtown to raise private funds for the preparation
of a master plan that would be the basis for reversing the decline.
That task was given to the Planning Council of the Greater Baltimore
Committee (GBC), chaired by Hunter Moss (who later became chairman
of the Urban Land Institute [ULI]) and directed by David A. Wallace,
a leading city planner recruited from the Philadelphia Redevelopment
Halfway through their planning work, the business
leaders concluded that it would take too long to plan for the entire
300-acre central business district (CBD): the “patient” could die
on the operating table while the diagnosis was being determined.
So the planning council set aside the master plan temporarily and
focused its efforts on the planning of a single project large enough
(22 acres) to make a difference, but small enough to be completed
within the attention span of the leadership—perhaps ten years.
This became the plan for the $140 million (in 1957
dollars) Charles Center Project, the first in the United States that
called for the redevelopment of the very center of downtown. The
feasibility of the project was analyzed and endorsed by the Baltimore
Urban Renewal and Housing Agency (BURHA), chaired by Walter Sondheim,
Jr. Then-Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro, Jr., made it a historic partnership
by providing what only the municipal government could deliver—first,
the necessary working capital in a $25 million city bond issue; and
second, the power of eminent domain, put in place when the Baltimore
City Council adopted the urban renewal ordinance in 1958.
The next strategic decision was to create a “delivery
system” to implement the plan for Charles Center. This took the form
of a quasi-public management team outside of the municipal government,
headed by the chairman of the Committee for Downtown, J. Jefferson
Miller, under contract to the city for $1 a year plus expenses. With
the assistance of the GBC members, a formidable network of contacts
was assembled to help with the dealmaking.
Though the rank and file of citizens doubted the project's
chances of success, as it turned out, Charles Center uncovered a
latent desire in the marketplace for sleek, new offices to replace
the Victorian style that was in fashion before 1960. A hotly contested
design competition was held in 1959 to select the developer of the
first building, and One Charles Center—developed by Metropolitan
Structures and designed by the world's most famous architect of the
time, Mies van der Rohe—was completed in 1962.
By 1963, three more structures were completed or under
construction and another six projects were in the final planning
or design stages, including two more office buildings, a hotel, a
department store, a theater, and an underground garage.
The quick success of the first project made it clear
that the public and private sectors had gained the momentum and confidence
required to tackle the redevelopment of the downtown waterfront—an
area eight times as large as Charles Center.
The Inner Harbor Plan
By this time, the shipping industry had completely
abandoned the Inner Harbor, and the businesses surrounding the waterfront
soon followed. There was an opportunity crying out for new users
to capitalize on the waterfront's natural ambience, right at the
doorstep of downtown. When Theodore R. McKeldin became mayor for
the second time in 1963, he set the wheels in motion, and Wallace
McHarg Associates of Philadelphia (now Wallace, Roberts & Todd) was commissioned to prepare a master plan for redevelopment of the area
surrounding the Inner Harbor.
The plan that resulted had three main thrusts: first,
a row of prestigious sites for office buildings along Pratt Street
facing the waterfront; second, multifamily housing in the eastern
and western sectors; and third, in the center, a public playground
for Baltimoreans along the shoreline of the Inner Harbor. (No serious
thought was given to attracting tourists; there were so few that
no records were kept.)
The plan's basic mandate was to restore access to
and enjoyment of the water to the people of the city. Approximately
one-third of the planning area would be razed and rebuilt; the remainder,
including city hall and the financial district, would be revitalized
It was projected that the plan would be fully realized
within 30 years. However, there was one overarching problem: the
Interstate Highway Program. In city after city, expressways were
being built that cut CBDs off from their waterfronts, and for the
Inner Harbor planners, an expressway crossing the mouth of the Inner
Harbor was a given under existing laws.
In September 1964, the city announced the Inner Harbor
Master Plan, and the voters quickly approved a bond issue of $2 million
to kick-start the program. The Charles Center management team was
given the implementation assignment, and this time it opted to form
a private corporation, Charles Center-Inner Harbor Management, Inc.
(CC-IH), which had the same legal powers as any private company,
but with the difference that its business was controlled by a contract
with the municipality. Miller became the nonexecutive chairman (in
which he was later succeeded by Sondheim), while Martin L. Millspaugh,
the deputy general manager of Charles Center, became president and
chief executive officer of the corporation.
Their contract provided for the corporation to manage
the redevelopment process under the direction of Robert C. Embry,
Jr., the city's commissioner of housing and community development.
The city paid all of the costs of the operation and provided logistical
support. Title to all acquired properties and the proceeds from land
sales remained with the city, and all agreements with third parties,
such as developers, required the approval of the city's Board of
Estimates. This was in open session, where any party could be heard.
At the beginning, the management team was faced with
the seemingly interminable administrative and technical processes
of urban renewal—the “submerged part of the iceberg,” as it were.
That entailed the acquisition of almost 1,000 properties and the
relocation of more than 700 businesses—including the city's wholesale
produce market, the state tobacco warehouse, and an operating fish-oil
refinery—along with the task of disposing of toxic dredged materials.
The urban renewal process also meant dealing with
14 local, state, and federal agencies that had jurisdiction over
some aspect of the land or water. However, one of those agencies
was the State Highway Administration. CC-IH helped to persuade the
highway commissioner to create a special, federally funded Design
Concept Team, which was able to move the expressway plan entirely
out of the Inner Harbor—initiating a process that other port cities
later utilized to their benefit.
The First Thrust: Headquarters Offices
By 1969, the momentum built up in Charles Center began
to support the first thrust of the Inner Harbor Master Plan: the
strategy of attracting prestigious office buildings to sites overlooking
the harbor. The USF&G insurance company was the first to come forward, with a proposal to replace
its old headquarters building in the financial district with a new,
36-story tower at the focal point of the Inner Harbor—the intersection
of Pratt and Light streets. This commitment by a major, homegrown
corporation lent credibility to the entire project, and it was followed
by similar commitments from IBM, the Federal Reserve Bank, the C&P Telephone Company, Equitable Trust Bank, and the Federal Courts.
In 1972, the state's board of public works approved
the construction of the 28-story World Trade Center, which was to
become the touchstone of the project. No tax concessions were given
for any of the new, privately owned buildings, and the city began
to benefit significantly from the increase in property taxes that
were being generated in the CBD. By 1975, the price awarded in a
condemnation case showed that cleared Inner Harbor land was then
worth more than the cost of acquiring the land and buildings a few
Both the Charles Center and Inner Harbor plans relied
on a high standard of excellence of design, supported by an advisory
architectural review board made up of the deans of architecture from
Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University
of Pennsylvania—chosen because they would have sufficient prestige
to overrule the most illustrious of the developers' architects if
necessary. This proved to be important: in Charles Center and the
Inner Harbor, the board was called on to review the designs of a
dozen AIA gold medalists or gold medal firms. In 1980, Charles Center
was awarded the ULI's second Award for Excellence.
A Playground for Baltimoreans
In each thrust of the Inner Harbor Master Plan, it
was necessary for the public investment to go in first, before private
capital could be attracted. To help that process along, the strategy
was to start from the beginning to make visible things happen, no
matter how small or temporary, so as to make news and establish the
Inner Harbor as a real, successful undertaking in the public consciousness.
By 1973, following the third thrust of the plan, the shoreline
around the Inner Harbor basin was rebuilt with new bulkheads
to define the
open space in the master plan. The streets were redesigned as wide
boulevards surrounding the circle of parkland and a 35-foot-wide
promenade was added at the water's edge—the feature that was to become
the spine of the project and would later be extended outward for
seven miles on both sides of the old harbor.
Since the Inner Harbor was a backwater of a Chesapeake
Bay tributary with no water traffic, the strategy was to bring in
floating attractions to activate the public space, in addition to
the planned marina and finger piers for working boats. In came privately
operated tour boats, a shuttle boat to the historic shrine at Fort
McHenry, a dock for pedal boats that could be rented by the hour,
a World War II submarine, and a coastal steamer converted into a
restaurant. On the west shore, a 700-foot stretch of the bulkhead
was dedicated as the Public Wharf for visiting ships, and it soon
began to attract international tall, square-rigged vessels, such
as the Russian Tovarisch and the Canadian Bluenose.
When Mayor William Donald Schaefer came into office
in 1972, he quickly became a charismatic taskmaster and cheerleader
for the project. He set up an Office of Promotion in city hall, under
the leadership of Sandra Hillman, a professional relations executive,
and the shoreline began to hum with events like “Sunny Sundays” and
festivals staged by Baltimore's many ethnic neighborhoods. These
events drew hundreds of thousands of residents and their friends
and relatives to the shoreline on summer weekends. The city fair,
first held in Charles Center in 1970, was moved to the Inner Harbor
shoreline in 1973, where it drew an attendance of 1.5 million people
over one weekend in September.
The playground for Baltimoreans that was depicted
in the Inner Harbor Master Plan was in place by 1975, and Baltimoreans
flocked to make use of it. Soon there was a change in the citizens'
feelings about their city—going from a collective inferiority complex
to a strong surge of civic pride—and CC-IH proposed to create a symbol
to lock that into place. The symbol turned out, appropriately, to
be the Pride of Baltimore, an authentic Baltimore clipper ship, dedicated
to sail around the world as the city's ambassador to other nations.
The Pride was lost in a tragic storm at sea in 1986, but a replacement,
Pride II, was docked at the Inner Harbor in 1988.
The second thrust of the Inner Harbor Master Plan—housing—still
had not lived up to the other uses after ten years. Only the federally
assisted apartments for the elderly, developed by Christ Lutheran
Church, had reached the construction stage by 1975. The city's Department
of Housing and Community Development (HCD) then generated a substitute
for new housing by adopting a “homesteading” program for the Otterbein
neighborhood in Inner Harbor West.
Through this program, the HCD offered the shells of
dilapidated rowhouses for $1 each to local residents who would agree
to restore and live in them. The 150 units were fixed up for an average
of $50,000 each of borrowed funding. These rowhouses now bring upwards
of $350,000 in their rehabilitated 18th-century neighborhood. The
success of this city-sponsored program proved there was a market
for single-family, walk-to-work housing, and the remainder of the
neighborhood has since been developed with upscale infill units.
By 1975, the pervasive feeling in the city was one
of pride and optimism. The 100,000-square-foot Maryland Science Center
was under construction on the shoreline, and the city announced its
intention to build an aquarium and a new convention center. Moody's
national credit rating bureau raised the city's rating for general
obligation bonds, saving the city millions of dollars in interest
payments and citing the Inner Harbor development as one of the reasons.
Then, in 1976, a series of events took place that forever altered
the impact of the Inner Harbor on Baltimore and the rest of the world.
Arrival of the Tall Ships
The turning point for the Inner Harbor occurred in
July 1976, when the square-rigged Tall Ships that serve as promotional
ambassadors for countries from Europe to Asia and South America held
a rendezvous in New York to celebrate the U.S. Bicentennial. Afterward,
eight of the Tall Ships came to Baltimore, where they tied up around
the Inner Harbor and Fells Point to the east, and opened their decks
for a public open house lasting for ten days. The response was electrifying:
hundreds of thousands of people crowded the shoreline and, for the
first time, large numbers came from outside the Baltimore area—not
only from the far suburbs, but also from different parts of Maryland
and other states. It was clearly a day-trip tourist event, which
opened the eyes of the Inner Harbor managers and their clients in
As a result, CC-IH commissioned Economic Research
Associates (ERA), a firm of tourism consultants, to analyze what
it all meant. They reported back that the Inner Harbor did, indeed,
provide a stage setting for a significant tourism industry. With
the large number of residents spending leisure time there, the only
thing missing was a critical mass of high-profile attractions to
create a year-round tourist destination. For the rest of the 1970s,
CC-IH's top priority was to produce such attractions. The Maryland
Science Center reached completion in 1976; the fully restored USF
Constellation, reputed to be the first ship of the U.S. Navy, was
restored and installed at the new Constellation Dock, and an observation
deck opened on the top floor of the World Trade Center, followed
by a 2,000-seat outdoor concert pavilion on Pier 6.
Then, between 1979 and 1981, four more major attractions
were opened: first, the city won approval from the Maryland General
Assembly for a $35 million state bond issue to build the Baltimore
Convention Center, which opened its doors in October 1979. The National
Aquarium in Baltimore survived a hotly contested bond issue referendum
and opened in 1981.
Next was the long-awaited Inner Harbor hotel, which
had always been considered essential to creating the “people place”
envisioned by the Inner Harbor Master Plan. The Hyatt Regency Baltimore
opened in 1981, made possible by a $10 million grant from the U.S.
Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under the Urban
Development Action Grant (UDAG) program.
Meanwhile, the world-famous Baltimore developer James
W. Rouse had created the festival marketplace—Harborplace—which opened
in the Inner Harbor on July 4, 1980, after surviving a referendum
petitioned by citizens who did not want to give up any of the open
space on the shoreline. From the day it opened, Harborplace was the
catalyst that pulled together all of the other attractions into a
critical mass, fueling an explosion of local and out-of-town visitors.
By 1982, attendance at the Inner Harbor was estimated at 20 million
visits a year: two-thirds were locals, coming again and again; the
other one-third, or 6.5 million people, consisted of tourists. In
1986, the shoreline received the ULI Award of Excellence.
The critical mass and the out-of-town visitation that
it created put Baltimore in a new position among the world's cities.
As the Inner Harbor's fame spread, the tourism industry added Baltimore
to its destination lists, and the traffic of people through the Inner
Harbor continued at the 1982 level. Harborplace recorded sales that
were 60 percent above the Rouse Company's original estimates. The
hotel became the most successful property in the Hyatt chain. Twelve
other downtown hotels were either built or rehabilitated in the next
few years—without any further city participation except in the form
of clearing and selling sites for a fair market purchase price.
The rewards to the Baltimore community in terms of
taxes, jobs, tourist expenditures, and business opportunities were
immense. But in the long run, the change in the attitude of Baltimoreans
toward their city may have been more important. In 1960, it had been
fashionable for residents to apologize for the city; by 1990, the
sense of pride was firmly entrenched, and it generated an even greater
surge of development in the years after 1982.
The Inner Harbor Master Plan of 1964 was substantially
completed within 20 years, instead of the 30 originally projected,
and with three times as much development as was thought possible
at the beginning. There was no sign of the pace subsiding; the new
projects becoming available only accelerated in terms of number and
By 2000, upwards of 60 new projects were either built
or recycled: 15 office buildings, 12 hotels, ten museums, and 17
other attractions, plus the Charles Center Subway Station, a new
police headquarters building, and the campus of the Living Classrooms
Foundation. The residential market slowly awoke, starting with the
conversion of vacant old loft buildings and the new, infill housing
in the Otterbein neighborhood. By the 1990s, there were three high-rise
condominium towers that sold slowly, but eventually established the
Inner Harbor as a place for devotees of urban living.
Along the way there were undeniable failures—mostly
attractions that simply did not have sufficient entertainment value
to succeed. But the marketplace proved resilient, and nine out of
12 failed venues have since been revived to carry on with different
By 1990, the newspapers announced that a “Renaissance II” was underway.
The major attractions of 1979-1981—the science center, the aquarium,
and the convention center—all had built major expansions, and the
Inner Harbor area itself was expanding outward in all directions:
- to the north, with the Rouse Company's 1.2
million-square-foot, mixed-use Gallery project and a new wave of
recycling in the old
financial district—including Furness House, a small gem of an
office building restored by the Cordish Company, which won a ULI
Excellence in 1993;
- to the east, with a 15-acre, mixed-use development
known as Inner Harbor East that features five major buildings
already developed by John Paterakis's H&S Properties on land that had been assembled by an unsuccessful speculator in
the 1970s and 1980s;
- to the south, with the American Visionary
Art Museum, winner of another ULI Award for Excellence, and Harborview,
residential project under construction on the former site of
a ship repair yard; and
- to the west, with the now-famous trend-setting
major league baseball stadium, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which
ULI Award for Excellence in 1994.
Within the Inner Harbor area, several of the failed
venues came back to life, including the historic Fish Market, converted
into Port Discovery, an interactive children's museum. The most dramatic
turnaround involved the former Power Plant, where an indoor theme
park languished for several years before being replaced by a Hard
Rock Café, a Barnes & Noble bookstore, and the first ESPN sports bar.
Meanwhile, the nature of the “delivery system” itself
was changing. While the CC-IH team had to learn on the job, a fresh
generation of managers was growing up, trained in the new field of
public/private partnerships. In 1989, CC-IH, then headed by Albert
M. Copp, absorbed two other city-controlled corporations and in 1995
became the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC), a 501(c)(3) organization
headed by M. Jay Brodie. Today, the BDC manages the economic development
program for the entire city.
New Directions for the Millennium
As the new millennium has gotten underway, another
40 or more downtown projects have begun construction or reached completion.
Many represent new trends that promise to influence downtown development
for decades to come. A short list would include:
- Rediscovery of downtown Baltimore as a place to live. Twenty
residential projects are completed or under construction,
including new construction,
the conversion of major existing office buildings, and the
revitalization of old neighborhoods to the south and east.
- Generic offices in the “Digital Harbor.” Abandoned
industrial properties are being recycled into the sort of unadorned
offices popular with today's young professionals and business
firms, exemplified by the Tide Point project developed by Struever
Eccles and Rouse.
- The addition of organized entertainment in the
Inner Harbor area. The drawing power of the Power Plant is being
creation of bars, clubs, and restaurants catering to different
- Major growth in health and higher education
facilities. The University of Maryland's hospital and professional
are adding 1.2 million square feet at a planned total cost of
more than $600 million.
- Unique attractions that add to overall appeal.
The American Visionary Art Museum showcases a new genre of paintings
and sculptures, while the Douglas-Myers Memorial Waterfront Park
and the Maryland Museum of African-American History and Culture
feature exhibitions and permanent collections that pertain to
Baltimore's largest ethnic group.
- The second renewal of the Charles Center project
area. After 40 years, the covenants enforcing the Charles Center
Renewal Plan are expiring, and new commitments are being made
to reaffirm the area's quality by rehabilitating the office buildings,
hotels, and urban plazas.
It is difficult to measure the effect of all this
activity on today's market for Inner Harbor real estate. There are
good signs and some not-so-good signs. The figures for the Inner
Harbor tourism industry in 2002 show a decline for the second year
in a row, attributed to the weak U.S. economy and the nationwide
drop in tourism since the events of 9/11. The Baltimore Area Convention
and Visitors Bureau has recently announced a reorganization triggered
by the decrease in the number of conventions.
On the other hand, three development teams have entered
a BDC competition for the right to build a new convention hotel;
the Class A office vacancy rate has been hovering around 10 percent;
and the sale in January 2003 of two major CBD office buildings for
healthy prices indicates a strong future for the district. The new
entertainment venues claim a resounding success in a business that
caters to Baltimoreans.
To ensure that the Inner Harbor will remain a model
of waterfront development for decades more to come, in 2003 Baltimore
hired an urban design team led by New York-based architectural firm
Cooper, Robertson & Partners to provide the first new plan of the Inner Harbor since its inception.
Members of the urban design team include Baltimore firm Cho Benn
Holback + Associates; Thomas Balsley Associates, a New York based
landscape design group; and O.R. George Associates of Washington
D.C. as transportation consultants. The team worked for a year to
strengthen connections between the waterfront and the central business
district (CBD), to preserve and enhance the public spaces, to create
additional gateways to the waterfront, and to ensure traffic flow
and parking options.
Still, it would be irresponsible to leave the impression
that waterfront revitalization alone can solve the major, underlying
problems that cities face today. At best, this kind of redevelopment
can create a good center city in which to live, work, and relax.
More important, perhaps, it can foster a new image and spirit that
give citizens a fresh outlook, enabling them to deal with other issues
and frustrations. In that sense, Baltimore is no exception.
Martin L. Millspaugh was chief executive officer of
Charles Center-Inner Harbor Management, Inc., from 1965 to 1985,
and later vice chair of the Enterprise Development Companies. He
is now an urban development consultant, headquartered in Baltimore.
© 2003 ULI—the Urban Land Institute (3/5/2003). All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the Urban Land Institute