I almost didn’t see it.
Like many other Baltimoreans, I was most interested in the new buildings (a promenade!) and street redesigns (a light rail!) depicted in the long-awaited renderings of MCB Real Estate’s $500 million Harborplace redevelopment released on Monday.
But eventually, my gaze turned to the water, and lo and behold, I noticed two tall poles rising out of the water, one near Harbor East and the other north of Federal Hill Park. Zooming into the photo revealed a dozen or so cable cars suspended high above the water. A gondola!
But is such a project really in the works, or is it just an Easter egg? MCB Real Estate, the project developer, did not shed much light.
“This project is about thinking big for the future of Baltimore,” said Alexandra Hughes, a spokeswoman for the company, in an emailed statement. “The Aerial Gondola is an aspirational idea that we think could be a great attraction and neighborhood connector. We want all ideas on the table for community input and feedback.”
The gondola went unacknowledged at a Monday press conference with MCB executives and city officials.
A spokeswoman for the Baltimore City Department of Transportation did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.
Aerial cable car systems, also called gondolas, have been built to traverse bodies of water in cities around the world, from London’s Dangleway above the River Thames to New York’s Roosevelt Island Tramway.
The Inner Harbor is currently served by the city’s Harbor Connector, a free water taxi system with stops in Canton, Locust Point, Federal Hill and Pier Five, that only operates from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays. For noncommuters, there’s the Baltimore Water Taxi, a separate service where an all-day pass will cost you $20.
The gondola in the rendering appears to have stops at the Harbor Connector dock in Federal Hill and the corner of East Falls Avenue and Aliceanna Street in Harbor East. The two points are about a 1.2 mile walk from each other.
Years ago, Marylanders indicated they’d be interested in a gondola above the Inner Harbor. A 2006 survey paid for by a grant from the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development found that 44% of residents said they’d be very likely to ride the gondola; another 23% said they’d be somewhat likely.
Trey and Peter Winstead won that grant in their unsuccessful quest to bring a gondola system to the Inner Harbor. The brothers pitched city officials on a $40 million privately-operated 1.3-mile route with stops at the Convention Center, World Trade Center, Pier 6 and Harbor Point.
Former Mayor Sheila Dixon, who was in office during the Winstead brothers’ push for the gondola, recalled sitting with them for a proposal presentation.
“I don’t recall them getting any further than presenting an idea,” she said.
Trey Winstead said he left a gondola cable car outside City Hall before the meeting.
“We actually went outside and looked at it, and Mayor Dixon went inside,” he remembered.
He said he’s pleased to see that developers are considering the gondola system, which he estimated would get someone across the harbor in a third of the time it would take to drive around it.
“If somebody wants one built, they just need to tell us where,” Winstead said.