That’s the message that panelists were trying to convey to an audience of 60+ CREWBaltimore members and guests at the September 14th luncheon event held at the Center Club.
The moderator for the event, Abby Glassberg, a broker for NAI KLNB and 27 year Maryland commercial real estate veteran, surveyed the room with the following questions:
Has anyone been to the Seagirt Marine terminal?
Does anyone remember when McCormick Spice was downtown?
Has anyone taken a cruise out of Baltimore?
The theme of the day was the current issues and future trends relating to Baltimore’s waterfront; those who answered “yes” to any of the above questions immediately realized the personal impact.
A heartfelt plea was made by Jill Lemke, Maryland Port Authority (MPA), reminding us that the Port of Baltimore is the “heart of the region’s economy” and must remain protected from surrounding development and supported in future endeavors to grow and maximize potential. The Port is a valuable asset which keeps Baltimore vibrant by bringing waterborne commerce for the benefit of the citizens of the State. Without the port everything we buy would be more expensive, we would have less access to the global economy and the region would lose about 13,000 jobs with over 126,000 related jobs being impacted drastically.
A Shiny New Waterfront
Laurie Schwartz, Baltimore Waterfront Partnership (BWP), discussed how many areas in downtown Baltimore have outlived their useful life and need updates. She described the efforts and initiatives of the BWP to rehab and revitalize the Inner Harbor and surrounding waterfront neighborhoods by investing in supplemental cleaning, landscaping, events, construction of parks and additional amenities. There is a “Healthy Harbor” initiative working towards restoring clean water by 2020 to protect our City’s most valuable asset.
Relating back to the Port, another area in desperate need of an update are the aging tunnels. In 1895, when the Howard Street tunnel was built, no one realized that an extra two feet of clearance height may one day become a huge impediment. Expansion of the Howard Street tunnel has been deemed imperative to allow double stack containers and taller modern freight cars through that currently don’t meet clearance levels, Lemke explained. This will allow cargo movement to the Midwest market therefore increasing the number of vessel calls and containers unloaded at the Port of Baltimore, many of which we are currently losing to Port of Norfolk. Our deep-water access is huge, which is why the port needs to stay where it is. There are other ports in other cities that are digging deeper to try to compete with us.
The Domino Sugar Refinery has been a Baltimore landmark, housed along Baltimore’s Inner Harbor for 95 years, though some question if the plant is still in operation. Peter O’Malley, American Sugar Refining, assured the audience that the manufacturer, who employs approximately 485 people (and over 120 other drivers and tug boat captains who are employed because of them), is very much still running full steam. The Refinery is another part of our aging city that could use a facelift, and they actually have been doing some major recent renovations. It is also an operation that needs the deep-water access of our port to get product in and benefits from the railroad and highway access. The operation desires to stay where they are because of the population center workforce and proximity to East coast. Domino Sugar has invested back into the community by sponsoring local events in the neighborhood and sending welcome packages to those who buy homes on the peninsula. Retaining Domino’s is a major win for the city- there is a sense of pride that something is still made in Baltimore.
Planning & Development in Baltimore
In the 1970s when the master plan for the Inner Harbor was designed, the plan called for all of the land on the shoreline to be open and accessible to the public, not closed off or privatized at all. The City only awarded property to developers who agreed to adhere to the master plan. Over time, the City has lost control of much of the land and development planning efforts. Developers have been focused on projects that create a work-live-play future for many of the downtown waterfront areas. Although it is acknowledged that many areas are in need of revitalization, there is also a desire to preserve the historic character. Panelists warned that we need to be careful with zoning uses and infrastructure in terms of what impacts there may be on and from the port and industrial areas. A waterfront condo sounds like a dream until you are awakened by horns going off nearby to signal a shipment coming in. An addition of a median may allow a lighting system or landscaping to be installed, but in turn could impede trucks from using the road if they are too wide.
Members of the CRE industry have many opportunities to connect with the revitalization projects that are forthcoming. We also have a duty to remind our peers, developers, builders, and legislators to look around at the bigger picture before rezoning, starting new projects, or voting on issues.
We are all in this together.
For more photos of the event, visit our event gallery.