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Editorial: Progress at Harborplace

There are encouraging signs of renewal amid the noise and sawdust at Harborplace, the Baltimore waterfront’s aging, iconic centerpiece that turns 32 years old this summer.

While the extreme makeover is still a work in progress and some current tenants have closed temporarily because of the renovations, Harborplace officials say they are on schedule to unveil a spiffed up and —most important — 95 percent-occupied Light Street Pavilion in time for Memorial Day weekend.

That would restore the pavilion to its 2007 occupancy level, says Christopher Schardt, senior general manager of Harborplace & The Gallery.

Changes include an updated food court with more outdoor seating and access from Light Street. There will also be several new tenants, including Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

New things are happening in the Pratt Street Pavilion as well, with the opening of Lenny’s Delicatessen and plans to add or expand other features.

“This is the largest amount of change to the center since it opened three decades ago,” Mr. Schardt said.

On the whole, this is good news. Built by the urban visionary James Rouse, Harborplace has been a dominant element of Baltimore’s public persona since its inception. The distinctive pair of green-and-white, steel-and-glass pavilions have been the city’s main tourist attraction and — certainly in the early years — a gathering spot for locals as well.

But Harborplace has been in decline for some time. It lost tenants and began to look a bit run-down at the heels. Its owner since 2004, General Growth Properties, filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009, from which it began to emerge the following year.

Two years ago, at the same they were celebrating Harborplaces’s 30th anniversary with a festive birthday party, city leaders were also calling for improvements there.

The renovations underway now are an important step in the right direction and should breathe new life into the facility. But there still needs to be a coordinated and articulated plan for the downtown waterfront.

Almost a year ago, the Greater Baltimore Committee rolled out an ambitious vision that includes converting Rash Field into a “world-class waterfront park,” possibly adding a pedestrian footbridge spanning the Inner Harbor waters and linking Rash Field to Pier 5 and creating a water and light show in front of the World Trade Center. The Inner Harbor plans are linked to plans to build a new downtown arena and expand the convention center.

While we might quibble with some of the details, this is the kind of master plan that Baltimore needs so that whatever happens at the Inner Harbor is not just a matter of piecemeal improvements, helpful as they may be, but also part of a larger vision that will restore vitality and magnetism to the city’s downtown waterfront.