Baltimore's Harborplace in bankruptcy and what that says about certain development trends in urban revitalization
The Baltimore Sun and Baltimore Business Journal ("Harborplace put into receivership, opening door for new ownership") are reporting that Baltimore's Harborplace development is in bankruptcy.
Baltimore's Harborplace, a set of retail buildings on the waterfront of the city's Inner Harbor, was the first example of what was then called a festival marketplace, a conglomeration of retail and restaurants aiming to draw visitors--in-area and people outside of the area ("tourists")--to the "inner city" and the waterfront.
The property owner is in the process of "returning the keys to the mortgage holder," which is a form of bankruptcy for the property. It's cheaper for the developer and the bank to take over the property in this manner rather than to go through a bunch of litigation.
Baltimore's problem is that Harborplace has needed refreshing for a long time, the current owner, Ashkenasy Acquisitions (which also has the leasehold for Washington's Union Station retail section) isn't well placed to do quality and innovative redevelopment.
This is further complicated by the post-Freddie Brown period of unrest in the city which has seriously impacted visitor numbers, combined with a Republican-led state government, many other pressing redevelopment needs within the city that aren't on the waterfront such as Park Heights, and a focus elsewhere in the city by other developers.
WRT how extending the waterfront makes Harborplace less competitive, there has been competitive waterfront development in "Harbor East" and Canton, where the cruise terminal is, and the owner of Under Armour, Scott Plank, is heavily invested in redeveloping a different section of the city's formerly industrial waterfront ("The Port Covington Redevelopment Project Examined," Baltimore Sun) has contributed to the property's failure.
-- "Cordish: 'Courageous' city leadership needed to help fix Harborplace," BBJ
-- "'I would love to see it replaced': Mayor Young weighs in on Harborplace," BBJ
What's happened with Harborplace is important for at least three reasons.
1. It was the first example of the "festival marketplace," and the concept has been employed elsewhere in the US as an approach to spark revitalization, including the prominent examples of Faneuil Hall in Boston and South Street Seaport in New York City.
Although the attempt in NYC was never very successful, probably because it was too ersatz and the city already has so many other destinations and attractions to offer.
Other developers, such as the redevelopment program of the Ferry Building in San Francisco, used the same model.
-- "Formula for "Festival Marketplaces"," Washington Post, 1986
2. It was one of the earliest examples of adaptive reuse of maritime and industrially used spaces on a waterfront employing a real estate development strategy focused on attracting visitors to buildings redeveloped with restaurants, retail, and attractions, often with a maritime focus including ships, museums, etc.
The Inner Harbor development sparked similar ventures world-wide ("On the Revitalized Waterfront: Creative Milieu for Creative Tourism," Sustainability Journal, 2013). For example, in Liverpool and to some extent, Hamburg.
3. More recently, Ashkenasy Acquisition, a real estate development firm, has specialized in owning these types of properities in NYC, DC, Boston, and Baltimore. But they take a non-unique approach, often replacing locally owned businesses with chains.
Waterfront redevelopment projects continue apace. Cities large and small ("Rust Belt Cities Turn to Riverfront Development for Economic Boost) ," US News & World Report) continue to pursue retail-led redevelopment of waterfront properties.
DC has two such developments, The Wharf in Southwest and Navy Yard in Southeast.
The Chicago River has a wide variety of development initiatives alongside, including various placemaking projects initiated by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Some communities have done revitalization initiatives along rivers and canals that aren't traditionally navigable, such as the Bricktown Canal in Oklahoma City and San Antonio's Riverwalk.
Problems with the "product type. But as the Baltimore example proves, this product type has issues.
Tension between developer-led initiatives and public planning. Developer-led programs can be overly real estate focused, like Harborplace, which is restaurants and tourist-oriented retail, complemented by some separately run visitor attractions elsewhere on the waterfront.
Public planning initiatives can do a better job of integrating a variety of uses, including some maritime uses like docks, piers, and marinas, and cultural uses such as museums like the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool or other uses, such as the Elbphilharmonie concert hall in HafenCity Hamburg or the Villa Méditerranée exhibition hall in Marseille ("Marseille's £6bn Capital of Culture rebirth," Guardian).
Maintaining maritime uses. Rarely, some communities, such as Portland, Maine, which still has a "working waterfront," with seafood-related businesses "working the waters" aim to keep a maritime focus ("Fishermen launch campaign to protect Portland's working waterfront," Portland Press-Herald).
In Hoboken, New Jersey, there is tension between the city, which wants to redevelop an active industrial site, and the maritime business that is based there ("Hoboken Nonprofit, Ferry Company Clash On Dry Dock," Patch).
Constant refreshment may be required. One of the problems with retail-oriented waterfront 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.
For example, at Harborplace, over time local businesses tended to be replaced with national chains and establishments like California Pizza Kitchen don't provide much in the way of unique experiences.
-- "Waterfront revitalization: The Wharf in DC and Baltimore's Harborplace," 2016
-- "Rebooting the Festival Marketplace," Design Observer, 2008
A related lesson is that the mix of retail and attractions with a focus on maintaining relevant local identity and experience needs to be constantly planned for and adjusted.
Maintaining maritime attractions is expensive. Another problem is the cost of maintaining maritime-related attractions, specifically, "ships" ("D-Day draws attention to WWII ships veterans aim to save," USA Today); "Baltimore’s WWII-era Liberty ship could be homeless soon," Associated Press).
From the latter article:
The John W. Brown, named for an American labor-union leader, was built in 41 days and launched from Baltimore’s Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard on Sept. 7, 1942 — one of 384 Liberty ships built here. After making 13 trips during the war, it was loaned in 1946 to New York City. There, it served as a maritime high school until 1982.Most communities lack the financial resources necessary to keep ships in good working order, which because they are in water, need constant maintenance and occasional full overhauls in drydock, the latter being complicated by the fact that there are few such facilities remaining in the US that can do the work.
After floating dormant in New York and, later, Norfolk, the ship found a home, and the people to care for it, in Baltimore. It arrived here in August 1988 and following extensive renovations, almost all accomplished with volunteer labor, was back to sailing under its own power in August 1991.
The ship moved last week from Canton’s Pier 1, where it had been berthed for much of the past 30 years, to the nearby Pier C. Pier C is currently a secured pier, meaning public access is limited. John Brown officials say they are working with Rukert to ensure the public can continue visiting the ship regularly.
For most of its years here, the John W. Brown has offered trips down the Chesapeake, usually to the bay bridge and back — 110 such cruises since 1991. Staffed with actual crew as well as actors portraying military personnel and others — the Andrews Sisters, comedians Abbott and Costello, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Gen. Douglas MacArthur — the hours-long journeys do their best to evoke the war years.
(In DC, such ships used to be berthed at the Navy Yard, but the cost of doing so, and reconstruction of the South Capitol Bridge isn't designed to accommodate sea-going ships, led the US Navy to cease doing so.)
Catering to cruise ships. While some cities like Venice have "too many tourists" and are especially overrun by day trippers from cruise ships, cities less popular as tourist destinations, such as Liverpool and Hamburg, have developed cruise terminals on their downtown-adjacent waterfronts, and this helps bring in visitors.
By contrast, in Baltimore, the cruise terminal is in Canton. While there are probably navigation issues, having a cruise ship terminal in the Inner Harbor could have added additional vitality to the waterfront.
Climate change/flooding. Superstorm Sandy wiped out waterfront developments in New York City and New Jersey, including the South Street Seaport.
Today, unprecedented flooding in the Midwest and the South impacts waterfront development in a slew of cities including Tulsa, Oklahoma and Davenport, Iowa--the latter city had previously been heralded for creating a waterfront that would accommodate floods, but today's floods have overwhelmed it.
Tulsa has been a pioneer in watershed and flood management, after flood in 1984 resulted in 14 deaths ("From Roof Top to River: Tulsa's Approach to Floodplain and Stormwater Management," Tulsa Partners). That city has a pioneering Citywide Flood and Stormwater Management Plan.
Need for good advocacy groups. Not only are there issues about fishable-swimmable, but about development and management. While the latter can be criticized as being real estate focused, Baltimore's Waterfront Partnership functions as a business improvement district for part of the waterfront and they seem to be doing interesting work.