Editorial: New hope for Harborplace

Daily Record Staff//November 1, 2012

Editorial: New hope for Harborplace

By Daily Record Staff

//November 1, 2012

Finally — there is hope on the horizon for Harborplace.

As we said in 2010 on the 30th anniversary of the iconic green-roofed pavilions in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, Harborplace badly needs rejuvenation.

And now its sale by General Growth Properties to Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp. may clear the way for exactly that.

To give GGP its due, some progress has been made by adding new tenants over the last two years. But a major infusion of new capital and new ideas wasn’t likely under the ownership of GGP, which emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection nearly two years ago.

Since then, the company has been shedding ownership and operational duties at some of its other properties, including the Village of Cross Keys in Baltimore and historic Faneuil Hall in Boston — both to Ashkenazy.

The New York-based firm already has a $5 billion portfolio of urban retail properties, including Rivercenter Mall on San Antonio’s Riverwalk, the landmark building that houses Barney’s New York at 660 Madison Ave. and retail space at Union Station in Washington.

As for Ashkenazy’s plans for its portfolio, President and Vice Chairman Michael S. Alpert told The New York Times in February that the company is looking for “urban infill properties that are well-located.”

He added: “We’re buying with an intention to hold and not sell — really for our kids and grandkids.”

That’s heartening news.

Harborplace was a catalyst in the renaissance of downtown Baltimore spearheaded by then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer, transforming rotting wharves into a tourist attraction that draws 17 million visitors annually to the Inner Harbor.

The original, largely local flavor of the shops and restaurants there has changed with the passage of time, as many of the first tenants have gone under or moved out. GGP added several national operators in the last two years, including retailer H&M and the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

The result is a retail center that still occupies some of the prime waterfront real estate on the East Coast but is badly in need of a new vision, not to mention physical upgrades.

Ashkenazy knows how to do that. Just look down the road 50 miles to Union Station, where the company is modernizing the complex of about 140 restaurants and shops to the tune of $35 million. It’s also changing the mix of establishments, placing more emphasis on food.

So we have high hopes for the new owner of Harborplace and what that might mean for the city and state. As Baltimore’s center of economic gravity shifts toward the east, the central business district needs to remain strong and vital.

Harborplace helped revitalize the city’s core once before, and there’s no reason to think a revitalized Harborplace can’t help do that again.



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