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A look at how Charm City's once iconic landmark lost its sparkle

The History of Harborplace in Baltimore
Harborplace 1990
Posted at 9:36 PM, Apr 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-28 11:19:19-04

BALTIMORE — At one point in time, Harborplace was a lively marketplace in the center of Charm City. But in the past decade or so its struggled with bringing in patrons, ultimately causing some businesses and restaurants to close up shop entirely.

It wasn't always like this for the shopping center, the idea for it began in 1963, when Baltimore Mayor Theodore McKeldin called for a new Inner Harbor area, an enthralling panorama of office buildings, parks, high rises and marinas. 

It was in 1967 that City Council approved Harbor redevelopment.

Fast forward 11 years, and developer James Rouse came forward with an attractive offer to the city.

The founder of The Rouse Company proposed a lively urban marketplace built with $18 million in private funding with an emphasis on eating places and window views of the Harbor.

The proposal said the city would get around 1,800 new jobs and upwards of $650,000 a year in tax revenue.

Not everyone was in full support of the development.

An opposition group called Citizens for the Preservation of the Inner Harbor gathered signatures which forced a referendum vote in November 1978.

“Open space in the harbor view is a public trust,” they argued. “[It's] not meant for commercialization. If you must build do it elsewhere.”

After an intensely fought campaign, Harborplace was approved by a margin of 16,000 votes and in July 1980, it opened to a crowd of thousands.

Over the next few years, a number of attractions and businesses made their way to the area, with the National Aquarium opening in August 1981 and The Gallery opening in September 1987.

In November 2004, Rouse Company was sold to General Growth Properties for $12.4 billion. Just around five years later, General Growth Properties filed for bankruptcy in one of the biggest Chapter 11 bankruptcy cases in U.S. history.

Within the next few years, Harborplace was bought by Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp for close to $100 million.

After struggling with empty store fronts, Harborplace faced financial uncertainty when they were placed into a court-ordered receivership. Later on, IVL Group was appointed to oversee it.

In hopes it will revive the downtown area, a Baltimore based MCB Real Estate came to an agreement with the city in April 2022.

Mayor Brandon Scott said he believes this agreement is a new chapter for the city.

“Bringing Baltimore vision, Baltimore community investment and Baltimore style to transform Harborplace into a landmark destination where residents can go to enjoy the best that we have to offer – thriving small businesses, green spaces, and cultural venues," he said.

While the plans to revitalize the area have not been detailed as of yet, there's hope that the once national landmark can get back its charm.