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Baltimore’s Harborplace to be sold to local development firm

For years the shops and restaurants at Harborplace’s two pavilions were a magnet for tourists and local residents alike. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

MCB Real Estate, a Baltimore-based development firm, announced Tuesday that it has signed an agreement to acquire Harborplace, the now-dilapidated marketplace that was once a retail hub in the Inner Harbor and an emblem of the city’s resurgence.  

“Harborplace is Baltimore’s front porch — first and foremost, a destination location for residents of the city and surrounding region,” said P. David Bramble, MCB’s managing partner, in a press release. “The level of disinvestment and disrepair that has happened to one of our city’s crown jewels has been heartbreaking for me and so many others. MCB is incredibly excited to launch the largest community engagement process in the history of Baltimore and attract new investment to the city. We will reinvent and reimagine Harborplace as a modern gathering location that is awe-inspiring and authentically Baltimore.” 

A Baltimore City Circuit Court judge put Harborplace into a receivership in 2019, taking the property out of the control of former owner Ashkenazy Acquisitions Corp., due to Ashkenazy defaulting on a $76 million mortgage loan at the time.

A Harborplace tenant, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., also alleged that Ashkenazy hadn’t adequately maintained the property, winning a $1.2 million judgment in Baltimore Circuit Court (Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. in the Inner Harbor has since shut down due to permitting issues). 

Harborplace is just the latest project MCB is planning to take on in Baltimore and throughout Maryland. The firm recently bought a major stake in the Rotunda, a mixed-use shopping center in Hampden, as part of a deal that also included purchases in Frederick and Damascus. In 2021, the firm took over as lead developer of the Clipper Mill redevelopment project, which includes about 140,000 square feet of commercial and office space.

MCB is also the firm behind Yard 56, a mixed-used development in East Baltimore, Northwood Commons, the redevelopment of the Northwood Plaza Shopping Center near Morgan State University, and others. 

Championed by then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer, Harborplace opened in 1980 and was hailed as the centerpiece of the city’s downtown renewal. But after being a magnet for tourists and local residents for decades, the stores and restaurants in Harborplace’s two pavilions faced challenges from other emerging parts of the city. That, combined with complaints about neglected maintenance and upkeep, led to a steady exit of those shops in recent years. 

Mayor Brandon Scott announced the plans for MCB to take over Harborplace in his State of the City address Tuesday afternoon, saying he was eager for Bramble “to transform Harborplace into a landmark destination where residents can go to enjoy the best that we have to offer: thriving small businesses, green space and cultural venues. Dave has my full support and the support of my entire administration as he navigates the receivership process and works to bring hundreds of millions of dollars of investment into this part of the city.” 

Other city leaders also lauded the fresh start for the long-troubled Harborplace. 

“The GBC has long advocated since Harborplace went into receivership that it would be preferable that the property be taken over and reimagined by locally based developers or investors who understand Baltimore’s heritage, diversity and current needs,” said Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, in a statement. “It is great news that what was once Baltimore’s international calling card will emerge from a prolonged receivership and have the potential to once again be an anchor downtown and the center of activity for the city’s residents and visitors.” 

MCB’s acquisition of Harborplace is contingent on court approval. The court-appointed receiver, IVL Group, will file to seek approval in Baltimore City Circuit Court. If approved, MCB will begin working with the community to plan and design Harborplace’s redevelopment.