Waterfront revitalization: The Wharf in DC and Baltimore's Harborplace
One of the problems with waterfront retail-oriented revitalization is that it tends to be highly touristified with ersatz experiences that aren't super authentic, so after awhile local residents stop visiting and then somewhat later, the experience becomes tired and may require frequent refreshment.
Photo by Hank Mitchell.
Baltimore's Harborplace (at left) is a good example. For many years, the pavilions have been dominated by chain restaurants like Cheesecake Factory (a California concept) and Pizza Uno (a Chicago style pizza concept), and "local" companies like Philips Seafood, a Chesapeake Bay style seafood company, focused on buffet, and J. Paul's and Paolo's (Italian), restaurants based out of DC, with retail oriented to cheap items bought by tourists like branded shot glasses and tee shirts.
In addition to Phillip's, non-area seafood concepts there now are McCormick & Schmicks, a chain out of the Pacific Northwest and Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, Louisiana-oriented and derived from the "Forrest Gump" movie. Other businesses include a Hooters restaurant and a Ripley Believe it or Not experience, which tends to locate branches in tourist communities.
Very little of Baltimore or Maryland is reflected within Harborplace or related properties on Pratt Street, other than its location on Baltimore's waterfront. Still, the area is an anchor for the core, and home to the Convention Center, Camden Yards baseball stadium, hotels, and other retail and restaurants.
Retail and restaurant business around the Inner Harbor is in decline, marked by the closure of various businesses, and in response owners are making changes to Harborplace ("Proposed Harborplace redesign aims to add life to Pratt Street," Baltimore Business Journal) and nearby retail properties that aim to draw from the same customer base ("The Gallery at Harborplace is planning big changes," BBJ).
The new program seems to refresh the buildings but isn't aimed at improving the authenticity of the experience.
Interestingly, Baltimore’s waterfront revitalization program in the Inner Harbor is considered to be one of the world’s first significant efforts at port restructuring in the face of land use and location changes that resulted from the shift from loose cargo to container-based goods movement within the maritime shipping industry, and analysis of the city’s successes contributed to the plans created elsewhere (“On the Revitalized Waterfront: Creative Milieu for Creative Tourism," Sustainability Journal).
The Wharf/Southwest DC. That's why I was surprised to see an article about The Wharf in the Washington Post food section, "At least 20 restaurants — and not a single national chain," which states that all of the restaurants opening in the new Wharf development in Southwest DC, will be independent ventures, albeit mostly from chainlets based in the area.
It will be interesting to see if independent restaurants and The Wharf will be more sustainable--by that I mean longevity without having to be significantly improved--than the national chains that for the most part have taken over Harborplace.
Longitudinal research on Harborplace finds that for the most part, suburban residents don't go patronize it unless they have out-of-town guests. Otherwise they are satisfied by retail and restaurant options closer to home.
One advantage chain brands have for tourists is familiarity--that's why in all likelihood most of the restaurants near the H Street and 7th Street NW intersection of Gallery Place, near the Verizon Center are chains, not "local" establishments.
The trick will be the mix of Wharf patrons between tourists and DC residents. DC residents will be attracted to the independent restaurants while tourists may look askance at them. A focus on independent firms, if not necessarily local, also marks the development of CityCenterDC and the Union Market food district in Northeast DC.
The Wharf is already doing a massive amount of activation programming and they are a couple years out from having finished buildings.
South Street Seaport. South Street Seaport in Manhattan is another waterfront "festival marketplace" that faces changes as a result of similar trends to the waterfront districts mentioned above, the need to balance serving residents and tourists, and the difficulty of sustaining quality retail and restaurant amenities when tourists make up the bulk of the customer base.
But while Harborplace and DC's new Wharf District retain little in the way of original buildings, that isn't the case for the South Street Seaport District, which still has original buildings and some cultural attractions, including the South Street Seaport Museum. Sadly, the Fulton Street Fish Market moved to a new location about 10 years ago.
Because the Seaport district is proximate to major Manhattan office districts, it always must fight off encroachment and eradication. Most of the changes proposed by the development community threaten the historic character of the area, which seemingly is the foundation of its sustainability as a cultural district and attraction ("Why NYC must save the South Street Seaport," New York Post).
Preserving South Street Seaport: The Dream and Reality of a New York Urban Renewal District by James Lindgren is a new book on the revitalization history of the district, and likely worth a read.
A Negotiated Landscape: The Transformation of San Francisco’s Waterfront since 1950, makes the point that because the waterfront is so integral to San Francisco's identity and because many longtime residents value this connection, San Franciscans have worked harder to maintain the district's historicity and integrity, although with only some success.
Some redevelopment projects like the Ferry Building have been done particularly well--in part because ferry transit services are still located there--and the Market Street heritage streetcar line is popular and unique, but Fisherman's Wharf and Ghiradelli Square have long since been touristified.
Plans to build a new arena for the Golden State Warriors basketball team on the waterfront further stress the waterfront's historic character. Opposition to the original location closer to the Ferry Building has led to the team shifting its interest to Mission Bay, although the plans there are also facing opposition from the hospital complex and other interests proximate to the site ("A Basketball Arena Battles for San Francisco's Heart," New York Times).
Site of the proposed Warriors arena (called Chase Center). New York Times photo by Max Whittaker.