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Designs Revealed For $500M Overhaul Of Baltimore's Harborplace

MCB Real Estate unveiled its highly anticipated design to transform Baltimore's iconic Harborplace property into a mixed-use development.

The redevelopment plans, revealed on Monday during a press conference at Harborplace's Light Street pavilion, call for demolishing the two-story, glass-enclosed malls and constructing four new mixed-use buildings in their place, along with adding nearly 5 acres of public space.

The project would cost roughly $500M in private investment and would reshape the city's Inner Harbor waterfront.

MCB Real Estate unveiled designs for its redevelopment of Harborplace. The rendering shows what the overhaul would look like from an aerial view near St. Paul and Pratt streets.

"We're going to continue to solicit our own community feedback, as well as go through the city review process on this design," MCB Real Estate co-founder P. David Bramble said. "While we love this design and we think this is the project our city deserves, we want to hear what Baltimore thinks."

MCB Real Estate's plans include developing a 32-story mixed-use building with up to 1,000 residential units at 303 Light St., a 200K SF retail and commercial building at 201 East Pratt St. and a 200K SF commercial asset at 203 East Pratt St. 

Additionally, MCB Real Estate proposes 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 nearly 19 acres of park and promenade space around the waterfront development, an increase from the existing 13.9 acres. 

Gensler Baltimore co-Managing Director Vaki Mawema, who is leading the project design team, said the Harborplace project offers an opportunity to reshape the city's skyline while better connecting residents with public spaces. 

"Baltimore's relationship with the waterfront continues to be an important aspect of both our cultural identity and also our livelihood," Mawema said. "The plan that we've developed opens up our iconic Inner Harbor. And we believe it provides a much more equitable way to access the public space that we're going to provide that will stitch together all of the amazing open space and the promenade and, of course, deliver some incredible experiences and world-class architecture."

MCB Real Estate principal P. David Bramble speaks at a press conference to unveil designs for the Harborplace overhaul.

It is expected the Harborplace redevelopment will also benefit from substantial public financial support. How much public backing the redo will require hasn't been determined, Bramble said. 

"Remember, there's a lot of public space here, public parks," he said. "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."

Gov. Wes Moore said the state has already agreed to invest $67.5M in the Harborplace project. 

"For this to be Maryland's decade, it's got to be Baltimore's time," Moore said. "And we're going to invest that way, unapologetically. We're going to get rid of this idea of the binary politics of what's good for one is not good for another, this idea that [if] we invest in Baltimore, that somehow that hurts the rest of the state. It's not true. It's a game, and it's a dangerous one." 

Public officials who spoke at the press conference recalled their irritation with watching Harborplace deteriorate in recent years when out-of-town investors owned the properties, and they expressed excitement about local ownership and the proposed overhaul. 

"Witnessing Harborplace decline from a must-see destination that we all remember fondly to generic mall run by out-of-town, absentee investors was disheartening and frustrating,” Baltimore Development Corp. President and CEO Colin Tarbert said. 

A rendering of a retail and commercial building, dubbed The Sail, planned for 201 East Pratt St. at Harborplace.

Prominent local developer Jim Rouse and his eponymous firm designed and constructed the Harborplace pavilions and delivered the buildings in 1980. 

However, after Rouse died in 1996, the pavilions were sold to a succession of out-of-town owners, including General Growth Properties in 2004. After General Growth Properties' bankruptcy in 2012, Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp. purchased the Harborplace buildings.  

Under Ashkenazy's ownership, vacancy sharply increased, building conditions deteriorated, and eventually, a judge for the Baltimore City Circuit Court ordered Harborplace into receivership in 2019. 

In late 2022, Baltimore City Circuit Courts finalized an order to sell Harborplace to MCB Real Estate, and in July, MCB said it had officially purchased the properties.    

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said since his first day in office in late 2020, staff in the legal department and the Baltimore Development Corp. worked at his behest to ensure Harborplace ended up in Bramble's hands.  

"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. 

MCB Real Estate expects the overhaul to cost about $500M in private investment.

Public officials also called MCB Real Estate's proposed Harborplace redevelopment a chance to correct problems built into the original project. A common complaint among Black city residents, including the 39-year-old Scott, is that the Inner Harbor fosters an atmosphere that scares off Black residents.   

"For anyone in my generation who looks like me, it's clear that from the start it wasn't a destination for me. ... Until today, until I was an adult, [my visits] weren't that good, because we know that this wasn't always in place for us," Scott said. "Sometimes when we would come, you [would] be met with police officers telling us to go back to our neighborhoods."

That is something Bramble, who is Black, said he wants to change as the development team reimagines Harborplace as a destination for Baltimore residents.

At the same time, Bramble said the company's motives for gathering community feedback and incorporating what residents want into a new Harborplace isn't purely out of the goodness of his heart.   

"It's not all altruistic," Bramble said. "It's also practical, and MCB, we have learned if you want people to come and use a place and, most importantly, spend their money, you better talk to them about what you plan to build for them to spend their money on."