BBJ:Harborplace receiver’s ‘sole focus’ is to make it safe, attractive, GBC’s Fry says

Editor’s note: The following appeared on on June 25, 2019.

A top business leader says the short-term goals for Harborplace are to boost its image, clean it up and make it inviting for the summertime tourist season.

Those goals have been set forth by the court-appointed receiver for the 39-year-old Inner Harbor property, said Donald C. Fry, CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. Fry spoke with the receiver Ian Lagowitz late last week.

The comments offer the first glimpse into the status of the ongoing crisis at the iconic attraction that was ordered into receivership by a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge on May 30.

The judge’s action took place after an emergency petition was filed by Deutsche Bank Trust Co. against AAC HP Realty LLC, an entity of Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp., owner of Harborplace in April. Deutsche Bank is a trustee for UBS-Barclays Commercial Mortgage Trust, which has held the $76 million mortgage since Ashkenazy acquired Harborplace in 2013.

“The sole focus of the receiver is making it an attractive and safe place for people in Baltimore city and tourists to come to,” Fry said Lagowitz told him during a phone conversation. “The focus is strictly on the short-term opportunities and beautification so people feel it’s a safe place to visit.”

Fry said he contacted Lagowitz to offer the support of the local business community.

In an email, Lagowitz declined to comment on Monday.

His IVL Group LLC based in Montclair, New Jersey, was named trustee of Harborplace by Judge Gregory Sampson on May 30. As trustee, Lagowitz will manage, maintain, lease, provide security and even seek a new buyer for the Pratt Street and Light Street pavilions, Sampson ordered.

The IVL Group took over Harborplace from Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp. last month — and since then little to no information has been available about what path the receiver was taking. The property that at one time attracted 17 million visitors a year today is about half vacant. Anchor tenants include large chains H&M, the Cheesecake Factory and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

Harborplace had struggled with vacancies and declining revenues for months.

The BBJ reported last October the property had been placed on a financial services watch list after months of delinquencies by its loan servicer Midland Loan Services. Tenants like The Fudgery, Five Guys Burgers & Fries and Noodles & Co. moved out last summer, following Urban Outfitters, Lenny’s Deli, La Tasca, Edo Sushi and Fire & Ice. Only about 20 merchants remain between the Pratt and Light street pavilions.

Harborplace first opened in July 2, 1980 as the vision of developer Jim Rouseto create an urban marketplace with unique, small and mostly local vendors. A year later, Rouse was featured on the cover of Time magazine and hailed as a key player in the renaissance of downtown Baltimore alongside the late Mayor William Donald Schaefer.

Harborplace and its success was cited as a linchpin of that new urban aura. The state of the once-iconic property today has left some of its original founders shaking their heads.

“I think that today, it’s an abomination,” said Bruce Alexander, a former Rouse Co. executive who helped develop Harborplace in the late 1970s. “I can only describe it as shameful. I’m glad Jim Rouse is not around to see how this jewel on the harbor has been compromised in virtually every respect: Merchandising, leasing, design and aesthetics. It’s become something that is completely alien to everything it was when it opened.”