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MCB Rejects Calls For Park, Leans Into Retail For Harborplace Redevelopment

The Harborplace retail property on Baltimore's Inner Harbor

Despite the wishes of some residents and activists, MCB Real Estate Managing Partner David Bramble rejected replacing the Harborplace pavilions in Baltimore's Inner Harbor with green space.

Bramble, during an interview recorded earlier this month with WYPR midday host Tom Hall that aired Monday, said it isn't in the city's best interest to turn the properties into green space. MCB Real Estate is in the process of acquiring Harborplace out of receivership.

He said the 42-year-old retail buildings provide a critical commercial link between the Inner Harbor and the traditional central business district.

"You're not talking to guys who are from Wisconsin who flew in here and said, 'Let's develop this nice piece of waterfront and leave,'" Bramble said during the WYPR interview. "We have investments all over the city, and the strength of the central business district is important for the entire city, whether you live in downtown Baltimore or where I live in West Baltimore.

"So we think it's very important to come back with something that's commercially viable. We expect to come back with a project, not a park."

MCB Real Estate officials have said they intend to inform their plans for the Harborplace redevelopment with input from residents. In response to the developer announcing intentions to gather public input, The Baltimore Banner asked readers in March how they wanted the property to be redeveloped. Green space ranked among the most popular responses. 

“Change the focus from spending money to activities and outdoor space for seating, play areas, fountains, gardens and sports activities,” reader Lina Ayers told the news outlet. 

Others on social media, like retired fair housing attorney Barbara Samuels, also advocated noncommercial uses. 

"Open space for just being outside," Samuels posted on Twitter. "A splash pad for kids, fountains, public art, cool lights, garden, shade trees. Grass flex space w/ stage for events, farm market, weekly food trucks. A beer garden & a few food places. Push most dining & retail across Pratt w/ safer crossings."

Bramble told WYPR one thing wouldn't change about Harborplace once it is redeveloped: the importance of retail. 

MCB Real Estate plans to curate a collection of retailers featuring as many local businesses as possible that offer experiences that can't be purchased online, he said. 

"We see that people want experiences, they want something unique, they want something you can't order online, and that's the kind of experience we think the retail associated with this project will bring," he said. "The kind of stuff you do because you want to go there, not because you could get it at the mall or order it on Amazon."

Harborplace, which opened in 1980, once served as the heart and soul of Baltimore's Inner Harbor revival. It featured a tenant lineup that Bramble called unique to Baltimore and reflected the city's spirit.  

However, as the years went on, Harborplace's succession of corporate owners failed to grasp why people shopped at the pavilions, Bramble said. As a result, Harborplace lost its luster and eventually fell into disrepair. 

The decline accelerated during Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp.'s checkered ownership of the pavilions. After Harborplace languished in receivership for years, a Baltimore Circuit Court judge approved the sale of the property to MCB Real Estate in late 2022.