Hey Legion, hope you're all well! In today’s ExBlog article we’re diving further into the history of Baltimore, taking a look at the last project that famed real estate developer Jim Rouse spearheaded before his retirement. We’ll be discussing three separate structures...all of which make up the entire Festival Marketplace, and all of which are now dead.
Baltimore's Inner Harbor served the city as its main seaport since the 1700’s. The patapsco river at the mouth of Jones Falls stream has been the center stage for multiple wars, shipbuilding yards and post-war cargo ship operations well into the 20th century. But after World War II, Baltimore needed to restructure its economy, since the industrial needs weren’t as robust in a post-war society. The old abandoned warehouses and piers that were left to mother nature were demolished, and big plots of grassy fields were placed for pedestrian use.
In 1958, Baltimore underwent a dramatic change when the 13-acre Charles Centre, fully redeveloping the downtown business district by 1965. It was at this time that the area around the harbor began seeing more community use, and in 1970, the first Baltimore City Fair would take place at the Inner Harbor. This festival would occur annually for 21 years, ending the tradition in 1991.
The success of the Inner Harbor through the 70’s made way for Jim Rouse, who was fresh off of his 1976 Faneuil Hall Project in Boston. He developed Harborplace in 1980, originally comprised of two festival marketplace pavilions. Mr Rouse officially retired from day to day operations after the opening of Harborplace. Then in 1987, the Renaissance Hotel was built. Rouse opened the Gallery at Harborplace attached to the hotel as an upscale shopping destination to accompany the tourist shops in his Pavilions, and as you’re seeing it right now in June 2020, it was temporarily boarded up due to broken windows from riots, while remaining closed because of Covid-19.
The Gallery at Harborplace
I revisited the inner harbor in July 2020 when the world began opening back up post Covid-19 lockdown, and I was pleased to find the Gallery and Pavilions open to the public, albeit with some safety precautions put in place. In ExLog 68, we discussed the rich history of Baltimore City from past to present, with a focus on the Old Town Mall, but we only skimmed the surface of the Inner Harbor, which is the focus for today’s ExLog. The fact is, you can’t mention the inner harbor without paying great respect to the man that rehabilitated and redesigned the area, famed city builder and legendary mall developer Jim Rouse. Mr. Rouse started his career in retail development in 1953. If you want the full details of how he got involved in real estate development, go take a look at ExLog 12 where I discuss his life leading up to his first development, while providing a video tour of the still open Burlington Center in New Jersey. To see the abandonment of Burlington Center, see ExLog 40.
The Gallery at Harborplace was built to be an incredibly rich shopping experience with 4 floors of retail and various eateries. Some of my earliest memories when I moved to Baltimore from New Jersey are in this very mall. When we were just getting our Chesapeake Bay sea-legs, my mom and I were scouring the state for something familiar to what we had back in New Jersey. I think it was in the first week that we moved down there, mom and I hopped in the car after searching the internet for nearby malls. We found the Marley Station Mall and printed out some mapquest directions. We got super lost on the way there, but finally made it. Probably due to the headache in getting out there, we didn’t frequent Marley that much in the first couple years. At the time, I lived in Mount Vernon with my parents, so we were closer to the Harbor than anything. My Dad scored some insane job in the port of Baltimore, so we relocated down there, and I auditioned for and got into the Baltimore School for the Arts. My dad, while he was researching schools in the area, had asked a few teachers about private schools and magnet arts schools, and the teachers usually replied with “do you want the preppy school, or the place where the kids have blue hair?”
Well, I wound up at the school where the kids had blue hair, and I can confirm, they surely did. There were all sorts of hair colors, and I legitimately felt like Harry Potter entering Hogwarts for the first year. That first week in High School, I met Fritz. He and I were both sitting in the cafeteria simultaneously watching another student tossing grapes into his mouth from across the room from each other. That student started choking on a grape and another student came up and whacked him in the stomach. The kid spit the grape out and everyone started laughing. Fritz and I caught each other laughing, introduced ourselves and from that point on we got along famously.
I bring up my high school years because we spent a fair amount of time skipping class for a number of reasons. Lots of times we’d just skip to practice violin in the Rathskeller, which is the room down in the basement of the school that had an old bar, and where we took English and Literature classes. The Rathskeller was right next to where we would have our Gym class, which was an empty swimming pool in a dimly lit are of the sub-basement. Gym class consisted of us running laps around the empty pool, or down in it...lifting rusty weights and doing jumping jacks. The school used to be a hotel, so all of these features make sense. But, I digress. Most of the time that we’d skip class, we would skateboard down Charles street to the Inner Harbor to mess around at the mall. The Gallery at Harborplace was my teenage mall, and had I known I was making such incredible memories back then, I would’ve paid attention more.
The Gallery at Harborplace was always the mall my mom didn’t want to go to because it was the “expensive mall”. On one hand, I get it…it looks fancy and there weren’t any mom and pop shops or discount clothing chains here. It was all upscale stores like Jos. A. Banks, Johnston & Murphy and J. Crew. I was a high school kid, I had no business with any of that stuff. Anyway, while mom thought of this as an expensive mall, and on that one hand it had expensive things... A Foot Locker or GNC in one mall isn’t going to gouge the prices in spite of another mall. But, I get where mom was coming from, so I only spent time here illegally while skipping class. Fritz and I would also frequent the Light Street Pavilion to eat at Hooters. We're enormous fans of the wings at Hooters, and that is the sole purpose we dined at that specific establishment. Lots of great memories from that place. What can I say, we were growing boys.
Unfortunately, the Gallery at Harborplace shuttered permanently on December 31, 2021 and is staged to be redeveloped into office space. But...if you happen to be staying at the Renaissance Hotel, which is attached to the former Mall, you can still catch a glimpse of the Gallery from above.
The Twin Pavilions
Developer Jim Rouse started building shopping centers in 1953 alongside his business partner Hunter Moss. As a lifelong Marylander, born in Easton, and died in Columbia, the city he built…Rouse would leave a mark on his home state with an incredible amount of structures and cityscapes to bare his legacy. He built the Mondawmin Center in 1956 as an open air shopping destination, which was later enclosed and redeveloped into the three floor Mondawmin Mall which I cover in ExLog 71.
Jim Rouse brought the second enclosed shopping establishment to the United States, when he coined the term “mall”, with the Harundale Mall opening in 1958 in Glen Burnie, MD, which was second only to Victor Gruen’s Southdale Center out in Minnesota. Rouse would further hone his skills in development with New Jersey's Cherry Hill and Echelon Malls in 1961 and 1969 respectively…Restoration of Boston’s 150 year old Faneuil Hall, creating the first Festival Marketplace in 1976, and then Philadelphia’s Gallery at Market East in 1977. I'll be producing a video on the Gallery at Market East soon, but you can see the Echelon Mall in ExLog 13.
While his development skills were becoming sharp, urban advocacy was his true crusade in life. After World War II he was the co-founder of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, where he worked to rehab abandoned buildings to provide less expensive housing. It was because of this initiative that Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Rouse to his National Housing Task Force in 1953, where he went on to champion the term “urban renewal”, urging redevelopment of plighted and abandoned sections in cities.
Mr. Rouse would fight his battle advocating for urban renewal throughout his career, and even in retirement. He built cities, festival marketplaces, rehabilitated downtrodden neighborhoods, and of course, he built malls. After Rouse built the Gallery at Market East in Philadelphia in 1977, he would immediately return to Maryland for his final project as head of the Rouse Company.
The twin Pavilions only started showing signs of stunted growth a couple of years ago, and were bustling for years. But due to the pandemic, nearly all of the trinket shops, and tourist boutiques closed down leaving the pavilions with only their restaurants reopening in the wake of the Covid-19 quarantine. It’s pretty sad, because these shops provided a fairly healthy income to families with tens of millions of tourists visiting per year. Now, the restaurants are reservation only, and most of them are only open on one floor, when in the past they had two floors open. I sure do hope they make a comeback.
The two enclosed Pavilions aren’t attached, and you have to traverse the ampitheatre section between them to get into each side, which poses some difficulty if it’s raining, but even in semi robust storms, I’ve seen Harborplace packed to the gills with people. Seeing how empty they have become runs chills down my spine.
Trying to get into the Light Street Pavilion can prove tricky, and today, the second floor is closed, and most doors are unlocked on the first floor. This place actually still open, despite some of the signs you’ll see posted, so if you pay it a visit, use the harbor facing street entrance. There also used to be a fantastic fountain over on the Light Street side that I’d usually see kids playing in, which was attached to the skywalk system that used to connect buildings down in the Harbor, but it was all demolished a while back.
Baltimore’s Inner Harbor had been struggling with crumbling warehouses and abandoned piers long after World War II had ended. Despite the efforts of the Charles Project to revitalize the downtown business district, the harbor area was still in pretty rough shape moving into early 1960’s. Then, in 1964, the partnership firm between Ian McHarg and David Wallace announced their master plan to revitalize the Inner Harbor region. The Maryland Department of Transportation swooped in with threats to build a sixteen lane interstate exchange over the water of the basin, bridging across to the area which would’ve consumed the area that we know the inner harbor today. When William Donald Schaefer took office in 1971 as the Mayor of Baltimore, he began a massive push to bring a more community centric attraction to the Inner Harbor, building a great amount of community support for the idea. The bridge and interstate project was eliminated by a grassroots uprising, and in 1977 the economic fate was secured when the firm hired Jim Rouse to build out the commercial section of the harbor.
By November of 1978, voters approved a referendum permitting the use of 3.2 acres of public park land to be developed by the Rouse Company for their new harbor attraction, provided they leave 26 acres free as public parks. The proper permits were acquired, zoning was approved, and just two months later ground was broken in January 1979 for Rouse's new Inner Harbor project.
Construction would take a year and a half, and crews would work through two very cold winter seasons, but on July 2 1980, Jim Rouse stood beside Baltimore Mayor Schaeffer to cut the ribbon and hold the grand opening ceremony for the brand new Harborplace Festival Marketplace, and with this dedication, Mr. Rouse would formally retire from his day to day operations at the Rouse Company. But his legacy would thrive. In 1981, the National Aquarium would open on the East end of the harbor, and in October of the same year, the cover of Time Magazine featured Jim Rouse, and called him “the man who made cities fun again”. History has shown that to be accurate, especially at Harborplace in Baltimore.
Along with the Maryland Science Center which opened just a few years prior in 1976, the Harborplace Festival Marketplace, and National Aquarium would soon draw crowds of over 17mil visitors per year, producing upwards of $167mil in yearly gross revenue from the Harbor attractions. A few years later, in September of 1987, the upscale 4-story Gallery at Harborplace, which we visited earlier in the episode, opened on the corner of Calvert and Light Street at the site of the Renaissance Hotel, which would bring further success to the Harborplace Festival Marketplace.
In 1995, Rouse was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton, and the the Rouse Company would go on to build and develop for years, but…Mr. Rouse would not. Jim Rouse died on April 9, 1996 at the age of 81 in Columbia, MD: the city he built. As the world cautiously stepped over the Y2K line, big changes would come to the Rouse Company. In November of 2004, General Growth Properties of Chicago purchased the entire Rouse Company in a massive $12.6bil deal, acquiring their entire portfolio of 37 properties, of which Harborplace was included. By 2008, GGP had amassed over $25bil in debt, staring down the barrel of their monthly financial obligations. One year later, they missed a $900mil payment on loans backed by two of their Las Vegas properties, plummeting their stock price by over 98% within the next 12 months. It was at this time that the company filed one of the largest ever bankruptcies, even getting a bid by Simon Properties to buy them out for $10. GGP turned them down only to be bailed out by various holdings companies, and by November 2010, GGP exited bankruptcy protection and made a substantial recovery after paying creditors in full, which was highly unexpected.
As it seemed things were looking up again for Harborplace, a Ripley’s Believe it or Not! opened in the Light Street Pavilion on June 26, 2012. The traffic generated by Ripley’s is usually substantial, and that remained true for this location. The nascent success in the early 2010’s gave GGP an out, and they sold the property to Ashkenazy Acquisitions for $100mil. Harborplace continued to generate adequate traffic, and was still the same tourist trap it’s always been, but by March 2018, Deutsche Bank had filed suit against Ashkenazy citing concerns made by the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., that Ashkenazy failed to maintain the property and its common areas. Bubba Gump won the lawsuit, and was awarded $1.2mil in Baltimore Circuit Court. By March 28, just weeks later…Deutsche Bank had notified Ashkenazy that they were in default on their $76mil loan, after missing their most recent March 6 payment.
By May 30 2019, Circuit Court Judge Gregory Sampson ordered New Jersey-based IVL Group LLC as the receiver, who took immediate possession of the property on behalf of the trustee, Deutsche Bank. KLNB came on as the leasing agent. While it’s possible for malls and properties to exit receivership in a healthy state, I don’t believe we will see Harborplace come through, and it’s because of the pandemic. The three malls lost so many tenants and traffic, and failed to receive vital maintenance while closed during the Covid-19 lockdown. We've already seen the Gallery at Harborplace shutter permanently, and the future doesn't look bright for the twin Pavilions.