Baltimore developer to acquire and ‘reinvent’ Harborplace as centerpiece of revitalized waterfront – Baltimore Sun
Baltimore developer P. David Bramble and his real estate company MCB have reached an agreement to acquire Harborplace, the struggling single centerpiece of Baltimore’s 1980s Inner Harbor redevelopment, out of receivership.
The deal, if approved by the Baltimore Circuit Court judge overseeing the receivership, would pave the way for what Bramble described as a sweeping redevelopment effort to ‘completely reinvent’ the faded commercial attraction and revitalize the downtown waterfront.
Precisely what that transformation will look like has yet to be determined, Bramble told the Baltimore Sun in an interview, and will be shaped by a “massive” and “comprehensive” community engagement and design process to assess what Bramble has. called “the porch of Baltimore.
“We want it to be local, we want it to be authentic, we want it to represent the best of Baltimore and we really want it to reflect the whole city,” said Bramble, who with his partner Peter Pinkard, is managing partner of MCB.
Bramble described years of out-of-town ownership and an influx of national chains eroding Harborplace’s local character as major causes of the decline of the once innovative development.
Bramble declined to outline the financial terms of the deal, which would see his company regain ownership which has been controlled by a receiver, New Jersey-based IVL Group LLC, for nearly three years. A sale agreement between the receiver and Bramble’s company, MCB Real Estate, is expected to be filed with the court in the coming days.
“This is a great outcome for Baltimore and its people,” said Ian Lagowitz, court-appointed receiver and director of the Trigild IVL group. “We are delighted that this sale will continue with MCB.”
A Baltimore Circuit Court judge appointed IVL Group as receiver in May 2019, removing the twin pavilions from the hands of former owner Ashkenazy Acquisitions Corp., a New York real estate firm that bought the property in 2012 for 98, $5 million and then defaulted on the loan.
The iconic resort had sunk under Ashkenazy’s ownership, falling into disrepair and seeing a continued exodus of tenants that has been further exacerbated by the pandemic. Harborplace went into court-ordered receivership at the behest of Deutsche Bank Trust Co. Americas after Ashkenazy failed to keep up with loan payments or pay a lawsuit judgment obtained by the former Harborplace tenant Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. on conditions in the mall.
Deutsche Bank Trust, the mortgagee’s trustee, filed for receivership after Ashkenazy defaulted on its $76 million loan, saying in its lawsuit it was necessary “to help improve the Harborplace’s unfortunate decline over the past few years”. Several longtime tenants, including Urban Outfitters, Five Guys, Noodles & Co., La Tasca, Edo Sushi, Lenny’s, Fire & Ice, and The Fudgery, had moved out during the pavilions’ long-delayed renovations.
Earlier this year, H&M, a clothing retailer that had anchored the complex for more than a decade, closed, leaving only a handful of tenants. Since the start of the pandemic, Ripley’s Believe-it-or-Not Odditorium, the Build-A-Bear workshop and the Johnny Rockets restaurant have also closed.
Harborplace, which was 48% leased at the end of February, reported total operating revenue of $494,626 in the first two months of the year and a loss of $195,393, according to the most recently filed receiver’s report. with the court.
The state now values the two lodges at approximately $23.5 million for tax purposes.
“Today we begin a new chapter for Harborplace,” said Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott. “Dave has my full support and the support of my entire administration as we breathe new life into this Baltimore landmark. I have had the city attorney working with him since the beginning of the receivership process and I remain committed to seeing this come to fruition.
When asked if the city would provide financial assistance for the development, Scott spokesman James Bentley said “the mayor is committed to restoring Harbourplace as a landmark for residents and visitors and will consider any request for assistance”.
State Deputy Maggie McIntosh, Democrat of Baltimore and chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said lawmakers included more than $60 million for infrastructure projects around the inner harbor and other investments — including the expansion of Rash Field Park – in the state budget in anticipation of a major Harborplace redevelopment effort.
“I’m excited about this developer because it [Bramble] grew up in Baltimore, lives in the city, graduated from City College,” McIntosh said. “His entire life is invested in this city and that’s exactly who we need to transform the Inner Harbor.”
“In the 1970s, another son of West Baltimore, William Donald Schaefer, had a vision of what this part of Baltimore could be with investment and hard work,” Maryland Senate Speaker Bill Ferguson said. a Democrat from Baltimore. “I couldn’t be happier that David took on this challenge to fulfill the promise of Harborplace for generations of Baltimoreans to come.”
Bramble, a Baltimore native and Madison Park resident, has built a growing portfolio in recent years that includes a number of developments in Baltimore and nationwide. His company is behind the Yard 56 project in Greektown, which leveraged the first federal investment in the city’s Opportunity Zone, and acquired part of Clipper Mill and the Rotunda development. At Northwood Plaza shopping center near Morgan State University, which MCB is redeveloping as Northwood Commons, German grocer Lidl has signed on to open its first store in Baltimore this year.
Harborplace attracted national attention when it first opened and a rush of visitors in 1980. The shopping complex, built by The Rouse Co., served as a major attraction in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and helped to inspiring a wave of similar waterfront redevelopment projects in cities. Across the country.
But Harborplace has been in a long-term slide for more than a decade, reeling from rising vacancy rates, deteriorating buildings and what some see as mismanagement by a series of landlords. Phillips Seafood, one of the first tenants, left in 2011.
Bramble attributed Harborplace’s difficulties to a combination of inability to adapt to changing times, neglect by previous owners, and loss of local ties.
“When it opened it was a huge hit: it was cool, it was local, it was authentic,” Bramble said, “and over time, when it fell into the hands of people who don’t weren’t connected in Baltimore, it ended with things you could get…at any airport in the country or any mall.
Bramble plans to reinvent the “built environment” of Harborplace — which he called a “disaster” — in a way that capitalizes on the waterfront appeal near a key downtown intersection. He sees a successful project as a boost for the traditional downtown shopping district, which has struggled as businesses have relocated, with some relocating to new developments in Harbor East and Harbor Point to the east from the inner harbour.
“People want that connection to water,” he said. “Our job is to fix the built environment, to deliver a reimagining of the built environment that reconnects everything and gets us all really excited about the Central Business District in Baltimore.”
Several prominent voices in Baltimore’s business community welcomed the news on Tuesday. Greater Baltimore Committee CEO Donald C. Fry said his group has called on “local developers or investors who understand Baltimore’s heritage, diversity and current needs” to redevelop Harborplace since the market has been placed in receivership.
“It’s great news that what was once Baltimore’s international calling card will emerge from an extended receivership and have the potential to once again be a downtown anchor and the center of… activity for residents and visitors to the city,” Fry said in a statement.
This is a developing story, more to come.
Baltimore Sun reporter Emily Opilo contributed to this article.
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