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Baltimore City Council Approves Bills To Transform Inner Harbor

The proposed $500M overhaul of Baltimore's Inner Harbor waterfront cleared a key hurdle Monday.

The Baltimore City Council gave final passage to a trio of bills that would pave the way for MCB Real Estate's redevelopment of the Harborplace pavilions with four new mixed-use buildings and 19 acres of public space. 

MCB Real Estate's renderings of planned Harborplace redevelopment.

If signed by Mayor Brandon Scott as expected, the legislation would alter the Inner Harbor's urban renewal plan, remove zoning restrictions around Harborplace and create a charter amendment that city voters must approve in November. 

The area's zoning restrictions don't permit portions of the developer's proposed overhaul, such as a 32-story mixed-use building with up to 1,000 residential units at 303 Light St. A charter amendment is required to allow multifamily development around the Inner Harbor waterfront. 

In addition to the 32-story building, MCB proposed constructing a 200K SF retail and commercial building at 201 E. Pratt St. and a 200K SF commercial asset at 203 E. Pratt St. Designs also include park space at 301 Light St. with an 8,500 SF retail building along with a publicly accessible, 2,000-seat amphitheater with elevated waterfront views and 30K SF of park space.  

Plans also include 19 acres of park and promenade space around the waterfront development, an increase from the existing 13.9 acres. Gensler designed the project, describing Harborplace as "Baltimore's postcard image."

Scott has previously said his administration has worked since the day it took office to ensure Baltimore-based MCB Real Estate would be the one to redevelop Harborplace. 

"We made sure that Harborplace got into the hands of a West Baltimore boy who understands and knows Baltimore like no one else," Scott said at an October press conference where the project designs were revealed. 

The Harborplace retail property on Baltimore's Inner Harbor

While the bills sailed through the city council, the proposal has received criticisms. Some residents object to the height and density of what MCB has proposed, while others have objected to how the Scott administration handled finding a developer for the property. 

MCB co-founder David Bramble said the redevelopment will require substantial public financial support but has yet to specify how much public investment will be required. 

"Remember, there's a lot of public space here, public parks," Bramble said at the October press conference. "So public support will definitely be required for those cases. As we move forward [with] the entitlements, we'll also work on pricing and have conversations about the capital for the public realm."

Previously, Gov. Wes Moore has said the state plans to invest $67.5M in the project.  

Prominent local developer Jim Rouse and his eponymous company developed the Harborplace pavilions, completed in 1980. Starting in 1996, the pavilions were sold to a succession of out-of-town owners, including General Growth Properties in 2004. Eventually, Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp. purchased the Harborplace buildings in 2012 following General Growth Properties' 2012 bankruptcy.

During Ashkenazy's tenure as owner, vacancy surged while conditions at the assets declined. In 2019, a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge ordered Harborplace into receivership. Roughly three years later, the courts finalized an order to sell Harborplace to MCB Real Estate.