Developer P. David Bramble said his real estate company plans to redevelop Harborplace into a destination for tourists and locals that makes the waterfront more accessible and connected to the surrounding neighborhood — and would be part of reimagining a Downtown district built more for pedestrians and bikes than cars.
His comments Thursday to members of the city’s Planning Commission during a public briefing session are possibly Bramble’s most detailed outline yet for what he’d like to do with Baltimore’s once-signature attraction.
Bramble, managing partner at MCB Real Estate, said the decision to tear down the waterfront promenade’s two pavilions — which he made public last month at a community meeting — will help Harborplace transition into a 21st century destination that attracts diverse visitors and stimulates the downtown Baltimore economy.
The move, he said, will help make the waterfront more of a focal point in the city’s urban core.
“I think the connectivity to the water, establishing that, making it clear, making it accessible, getting loading docks off of our main streets. I think those are the kinds of things that we can do that will be timeless,” he said.
His statement follows similar remarks made Tuesday at iMPACT Maryland, The Baltimore Banner’s event for insights and innovative ideas for the state’s future. There, in response to an audience member’s question, Bramble described Pratt Street’s multilane vehicle traffic as inhospitable to pedestrians and visitors.
Over the nearly half-hour briefing Thursday, Bramble described a roadmap that centers Harborplace’s waterfront around a mix of other amenities that draw people to the city’s core, including a newly renovated CFG Bank Arena, two professional sports stadiums, Horseshoe Casino Baltimore and the National Aquarium and Maryland Science Center.
Ideally, he said, there will be a mix of family-friendly attractions, date-night spots for couples and entertainment venues surrounding the water that can keep the average visitor engaged with downtown for long intervals.
“We really need to be thinking about this, as one, connected, amazing district that is not car-centric with a highway running through it, but it’s one amazing district that you can feel like you can traverse easily on foot or on a bike,” he said. “We’re going to make this the heartbeat of the city. It’s going to be vibrant and exciting, there’ll be public space, there’ll be lots of restaurants, hopefully a lot of cool, local concepts, places to hang out, drink, entertain yourself, all those things, and there will also be people living all around downtown.”
The announcement about the two-story pavilions’ coming demolition inspired both skepticism and optimism from city and regional residents, many of whom have called for a Harborplace renaissance over the last decade. Erected by the Rouse Co. as part of a then-effort to revive downtown Baltimore, the two structures opened in 1980 to much fanfare. In 2012, it sold to Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp., which went on to default on a loan and allowed the pavilions to decline.
Bramble said the pavilions have outlived their use.
“Over time, the way people interacted with retail changed, and those buildings are 100% retail, which is part of the problem. That just doesn’t work anymore,” Bramble said. “And a mall on the water is not the future. It was the past.”
Bramble, a Baltimore native whose portfolio includes a number of other city and regional retail projects, said his firm is uniquely able to overhaul Harborplace in line with a new vision, given his local credentials and ties to the city. He also said he’s not interested in taking on the project for “altruistic” purposes; rather, he said he intends to add value for other city property owners and city government officials who are helping to finance the project with tax credit dollars.
The project is aided, Bramble said, by MCB Real Estate’s prior experience with leasing space to retail tenants — the firm has grown accustomed to trial and error in that area, he joked — as well as by the geographic proximity of Baltimore’s Central Business District and the water.
“A lot of times you go in a place, and you’re building something new, you’re spending all your time, like, ‘How am I going to get people to come here?’” Bramble said. “They want to be here. All you have to do is make sure there’s something for them to do, and, honestly, something for them to spend money on while they are here. And we want to keep them here as long as we possibly can.”
The timeline for the pavilions’ demolition is not yet known. In the meantime, Bramble is soliciting tenants from diverse backgrounds to move into temporary space inside the pavilions to join Baltimore-based Crust by Mack and Matriarch Coffee, which both have set up temporary posts on the site.
This article may be updated.
Baltimore Banner reporter Emily Sullivan contributed to this report.