Inner Harbor wins 2009 Heritage Award from the Urban Land Institute

Baltimore’s world-famous Inner Harbor has been awarded the 2009 Heritage Award of the Urban Land Institute (ULI). The award was announced on April 24 at the association’s spring meeting in Atlanta, when the ULI announced the winners of its annual Awards of Excellence for development plans and projects across the U.S.

The ULI announcement said the Heritage Award is not given annually, but “is bestowed periodically for developments that have demonstrated industry excellence and made substantial contributions to their greater community’s well-being for at least 25 years.” It has been given only eight times in the 30 years of the Awards of Excellence program.

The Inner Harbor’s redevelopment was one of the signature projects of a major downtown revitalization that was planned and vigorously supported by the Greater Baltimore Committee after being formed in 1955 to “take prompt and aggressive action” to address a deteriorating city that was weakening the region’s economy.

Current GBC member and urban development consultant Martin Millspaugh served as chief executive of Charles Center-Inner Harbor Management, Inc., which was also cited by ULI. The non-profit Charles Center-Inner Harbor, Inc. managed the development of the Inner Harbor on behalf of the City from 1965 to1989, under six different Mayors.

The Inner Harbor was the second of two major projects spawned by the GBC’s planning council which, working with renowned architect David Wallace, in 1956 conceived the Charles Center redevelopment and in 1964 produced a 30-year plan to redevelop the Inner Harbor.

Citing the development of the original Inner Harbor project, which was completed in 1984, the ULI award said ”the Baltimore Inner Harbor … now stands as the model for post-industrial waterfront redevelopment around the World.” Other projects that have won the Heritage Award include Rockefeller Center, Disneyland and the Burnham Plan for the Chicago waterfront.

“The Heritage Award is especially gratifying because it recognizes the historic role the Inner Harbor has played — and continues to play — in creating a new and inviting image for Baltimore around the world,” Millspaugh said. “It honors the heart of the city itself, as well as the many people who worked over the years to transform the derelict and abandoned old Inner Harbor Basin of 1965 into the exhilarating playground for Baltimoreans and the thriving tourist destination that it is today.”

The Heritage Awards recognize “the full development of a project, not just its architecture or design, but its leadership, contribution to the community, innovations, public-private partnerships, environmental protection and enhancement, response to societal needs and financial viability.”

The Heritage Award must meet the additional criteria of “establishing new concepts or standards that have been emulated elsewhere; being of national or international renown and having been completed for a minimum of 25 years.”

Baltimore won its first ULI Award of Excellence in 1980 for the Charles Center project, and five other such Awards have been received for individual projects in the Charles Center-Inner Harbor development area: the Furness House office building renovation, the Inner Harbor Shoreline, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the American Visionary Art Museum and the Power Plant.

The Inner Harbor development program was initiated in 1963, when the then Mayor Theodore R. McKeldin announced that Baltimore had shown its ability to create such a development by the successful implementation of the Charles Center project. The original Inner Harbor Master Plan, extending roughly from Lombard Street to Key Highway and from Howard Street to the National Aquarium, was created in stages between 1964 and 1968.

New headquarters office buildings were built along Pratt Street and the Inner Harbor Promenade and public open space surrounding the historic Harbor Basin were completed in the 1970’s, when weekly festivals put on by different ethnic neighborhoods started drawing hundreds of thousands of Baltimoreans to the Inner Harbor Shoreline. The City Fair moved to the Inner Harbor in 1973.

There was still no real thought of Baltimore attracting tourists until 1976, when eight Tall Ships from different countries came to visit — after the U.S. Bicentennial Celebration in New York. The Tall Ships held an open house for 10 days, and visitors came from two or three States away for that.

The City and its Inner Harbor managers recognized the potential for tourism, and they spent the next five years developing major attractions such as the Science Center, National Aquarium, Convention Center, Hyatt Regency Hotel and Harborplace.

When the last of those major projects were completed in 1980 and ’81, the result created a critical mass of attractions that began drawing an attendance of 20 million visits a year, including 6 to 7 million tourists.

As a result, the ULI announcement noted, the Inner Harbor now supports upwards of 50,000 jobs, generates $60 million in new tax revenues from all sources and has created a billion-dollar tourist industry were none existed before.

In 1984, the American Institute of Architects gave its Honor Award to the Inner Harbor, citing it as “one of the supreme achievements of large-scale urban design and development in U.S. history.”

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