The plan to rejuvenate Baltimore’s Harborplace has rankled relatives of a man whose vision 60 years ago inspired redevelopment of the Inner Harbor.

Four family members of former Baltimore Mayor Theodore McKeldin are asking the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation to intercede in the once-in-a-generation plan to modernize the city’s central-most public space.

They’re seeking landmark designation for a portion of the city-owned property bearing their patriarch’s name, a move that would create another layer of oversight for an enormously consequential project.

At the heart of the dispute is one square acre of land notched into the waterfront’s northwest corner, where Light and Pratt streets converge. An oxidized plaque embedded in the brick pavers there tells visitors they’re standing in McKeldin Square, a place honoring the man remembered locally as “the father of the Inner Harbor.”

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“To me, it’s extremely important that McKeldin Square stays intact,” said Courtney McKeldin, daughter-in-law of the former mayor.

It was McKeldin, family members said in a letter to commissioners, who saw through the Baltimore waterfront’s rust and decay to recognize its potential. As the shipping industry moved further to the city’s edges, McKeldin beckoned residents to imagine an “enthralling panorama of office buildings, parks, high-rise apartments, and marinas” encircling the harbor.

“In this, we have a very special opportunity, for few other cities in the world have been blessed, as has ours, with such a potentially beautiful harbor area within the very heart of downtown,” McKeldin said in a 1963 speech. “Too visionary this? ... Too dreamlike? ... Certainly not.”

McKeldin and other city officials used $3 million in federal funds to purchase the waterfront land along the Inner Harbor. The square was dedicated to McKeldin in 1982 and recently underwent a $5 million redesign that was completed in 2020, the family said in the letter.

So it came as a surprise in October when MCB Real Estate unveiled detailed plans for Harborplace that quoted McKeldin’s 1963 speech but omitted the McKeldin name from designs. The renderings, which are preliminary and could change, depict a park expanded by two acres and flanked by an amphitheater and buildings. The illustrations instead name the public space “The Park at Freedom’s Port.”

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(MCB Real Estate)

Alexandra Hughes, a spokeswoman for MCB Real Estate, said they’ve spoken with the McKeldin family to ensure that the former governor’s “legacy and contributions to the revitalization of downtown Baltimore and its waterfront are preserved and celebrated.”

Courtney McKeldin said she shared her concerns directly with MCB Real Estate co-founder P. David Bramble. The developer assured her the McKeldin name would be included somewhere in the park, though that “did not sit too well with me,” McKeldin said.

A landmark designation for McKeldin Square would give the commission authority to review and approve changes to the space. The project is already facing multiple bureaucratic hurdles before developers break ground. Redeveloping Harborplace will require amendments to zoning, to the city charter and to the Inner Harbor’s urban renewal plan, all of which will go before City Council. Several government agencies — city, state and federal — will need to review aspects of the plan. Voters will have to approve any amendments to the city charter.

McKeldin emphasized that her family does not oppose Bramble’s plans for developing the Inner Harbor. Still, the devil is in the details.

“To erase [McKeldin Square] and put another park, maybe a McKeldin name on a plaque, I don’t think it’s the right move,” she said.