French pastry on the Baltimore docks

The inner harbor of Baltimore shimmers gray-blue in the heat in front of the new $18 million twins known as "Harborplace." The twins are the nearly identical double buildings in this shopper's playground. They look like computerized versions of Victorian pavilions: chunky tan concrete structures, but with an old-fashioned lilt in their veranda-like porches, sage- green peaked roofs, and tiny decorative lights reminiscent of a band concert or fair. The Baltimore Sun has compared them to "old-time ferry sheds."

Baltimore's Harborplace is not just a concrete whim on the part of its designer, the Rouse Company, which also designed Faneuil Hall Market Place in Boston and the Gallery at Market East in Philadelphia. It is a symbol of the revitalization of Baltimore's inner city, particularly that section of the harbor waterfront which was once a run-down slum of rotting warehouses. It is the latest part of a waterfront renaissance that also includes a new convention center and a soon-to-be-built Hyatt Regency hotel, as well as a city aquarium.

But for shoppers ambling through the "Festival Marketplace," as the Rouse Company calls it, Harborplace is just waterside fun.

We visited it on one of the steamier summer days, when the air was like hot clam broth. The temperature was 97 degrees F., with a humidity of 44 percent, and wind from the southwest at 9 miles per hour, according to a weather blackboard in front of Hum Additis -- that's a Harborplace shop with a pun for a name, devoted to keeping the humidity off you with umbrellas, fans, raincoats, etc. Once inside the air- conditioned acres of glass, steel, and concrete at Harborplace's twin pavilions, though, you'd hardly know the summer sweltered outside.

We started at the Light Street Pavilion, the larger of the two, which is 90, 000 square feet devoted primarily to noshing, munching, crunching, chewing, and swallowing.

"The primary thrust was largely food or food-related items -- food is universal -- so about 60 percent of our projected shops were aimed at that," says Scott Ditch, a Rouse spokesman. So in this harbor marketplace there are raw bars like the one run by the Phillips's restaurant family, a Harborplace branch of one Maryland seafood eatery that has become a local institution over the years. Long rows of counters are packed high with frosty ice on which gleam fresh, pewter-colored clams, scarlet or sea-green lobsters, silvery oysters, creamy fillets of sole. You can grab an oyster sandwich to eat at one of the benches, chairs, or tables scattered throughout the pavilion, or you can join the long line for a sit-down meal inside the stained-glass comfort of the restaurant.

Seafood is, of course, a theme at the pavilion, where huge, decorative fish hang like flags -- a giant, orange, soft-shelled crab floats benignly from the ceiling of the Light Street Pavilion.

But the pavilion has so many food choices that it's like a Chinese menu run amok -- 73 from Column A, 57 from Column B. You can sample: Ostrowski's Polish sausage; a long rod of deep-fried batter known as a "whimsey," a cross between a waffle and a donut, at the "Whimsey Works"; chocolate zucchini cake or stone soup (tomato, mushroom, cream cheese) at Ms. Desserts; baguettes at the French Bread Factory; Mounds-, gingersnaps-, or "Turtles" candy-flavored ice cream at Lee's Factory Ice Cream; pastal rancheros (Mexican lasagna) at the Mexican Fiesta; peanut butter jelly beans at the Bon Bon Tree; giant, chocolate, chocolate- chip cookies at the Cookie Connection; tempura or their variation of sushi (like a Japanese egg roll) at the Golden Flounder; a cup full of chicken wings with hot sauce at Wing 'n' Things; large, puffy, gold rectangles of pastry at Anna's Fried Dough; a drink called the Pink Panther (strawberries, yogurt, milk, and honey) at New Life; a power bagel (alfalfa sprouts, tomato, Muenster cheese, yogurt) at Bagel Place; Maryland crab soup at the Petite Marmite; a pear crepe at the Old Amsterdam Dutch Waffle House; "check rice" (rice with ground spinach) at the African Queen; chocolate covered pretzels at Pretzel Productions; wonton soup and spring roll at Trishaw Express. And at Lillian and Kay's Original Congo Bars, an authentic, New York-style egg cream, made with milk, chocolate syrup, and soda water (traditionally, no egg, no cream -- no one knows why it's called an egg cream, but it is) is sold. Along with it goes a square of Congo bar, which is like a brownie made with brown sugar and chocolate chips. All the food is carefully chosen and reasonably priced.

As Scott Ditch, the Rouse spokesman, points out, the emphasis in both the food and other shops was put on finding local people with items of good quality to sell, particularly in the food line, items that reflect Baltimore's strong and diverse ethnic communities. "We did not want this to be a conventional shopping center; we were not trying to compete with the major downtown stores," he explains, noting that department stores and franchises like McDonald's are not included in Harborplace. It is all part of what Mr. Ditch describes as "recreational shopping," or browsing, with enough variety and spice to pique the interest of the most jaded shopper.

Among the kiosks, boutiques, and shops at Harborplace, you can buy anything from a fork that turns into a ball-point pen ($1.65 at Penn Station) to a $2,500 five-foot toy camel with amber eyes at Embraceable Zoo.

"Have you been over to the other building?" a man with a beard asked friends chomping away on hot dogs at the Light Street Pavilion. "You eat here, you do your shopping there," he said, and that's a pretty good summary of the situation. At Light Street you can find, behind the orange and white awnings, boutiques totally devoted to kites or balloons or hammocks or Brazilian lace and pottery, or herbs or handblown glass or handcrafted Peruvian masks or objects waiting for lefty, courtesy of a shop devoted to left-handers, called South Paw.

But the more serious shopping is across the Red Brick Road at the 60,000 -square-foot Pratt Street Pavilion, with the genteel, English prints of Laura Ashley in fabrics for clothing and home furnishings, an art gallery called Collective Impressions, the Children's Book Store (a huge hit, it has had to reorder its entire inventory after the first month), a Pappagallo shop, Weems & Plath's store full of navigational aids, and several other shops selling housewares, clothing, gifts, etc. There are also a few for slightly obsessional shoppers: a store called "The Heart of the Matter" that sells only items decorated with hearts, from suspenders to shoelaces; a lepidopterist's dream called "Flutterby's" that deals only in butterflies, from a flight of orange monarchs mounted in Plexiglas to butterfly-shaped pillows. Pratt Street also contains several major restaurants, including the Athenia Plaka, The Black Pearl , Tandoor, and a handsome Italian place called Pronto. It commands a dazzling view of the harbor from its white-on-white second-floor balcony, with a gleaming decor of white tile and brass.You can fork away at your fettuccine as you watch a cook in the window of Pronto rolling handmade noodles that hang in a row like blond necklaces.

Two shoppers, looking ruefully at the sandwiches they'd brought from home, talked about how they were "fascinated with the multitude of eating places and little shops, with the amount and variety and the good prices." Mrs. Bonnie Fietkiewicz and Dianne Hadermann of Frederick, Md., seeing Harborplace for the first time, vowed they were going to leave their BLTs at home next time and sample some of the 25 eating places in Light Street's food hall.

"We're overwhelmed," said Mr. and Mrs. Jack Hoppenstein of Baltimore after their first tour of Harborplace. Mr. Hoppenstein, an insurance agent, had been skeptical about the project. "I think now it's a fine addition to Baltimore, but I was reluctant at first, when I heard they were going to put in buildings that might hide the waterfront. But I think it's the right addition and is an attraction for Baltimore."

Mr. Hoppenstein is referring to the flap that arose when residents learned Harborplace would be built on a grassy park area that had been created by the leveling, years ago, of the waterfront slum to make room for a long-anticipated renovation.

"The city had had a plan but no takers for 10 years," says Mr. Ditch. "They came to us . . . and they said they'd seen what we did in Boston [Faneuil Hall] and said, 'Why not do our inner harbor?' . . . The city, of course, played an important role in outlining the entire inner harbor plan, but the project itself is ours: the design, leasing, operation, bringing it into being. . . ."

At the time of initial discussion, he says, local merchants were upset because they thought it would draw business away, that it would be an enclosed shopping center. Both merchants and the public "were afraid it would be a dull, tawdry, conventional retail thing encroaching on the harbor." Once their fears were dispelled, it took 18 months for Harborplace to be built, with Rouse footing the $18 million cost for its project, but the city coughing up $2.7 million for public improvements in the area.

Its opening day was a July celebration, with 100,000 people thronging the pavilions and harbor area for the taping of a TV program on Harborplace, fireworks, the roar of cannon, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, balloons, kung fu specialists, mimes, soccer players, Polish and Greek dancers, and the arrival of the replica of a clipper ship, the Pride of Baltimore, in the harbor.

"Harborplace is of, by, and for the people of Baltimore," said Baltimore Mayor William D. Schaefer, in a burst of civic pride for the project that has become synonymous with the city's rejuvenation.

Harborplace adds 1,800 jobs to the city's rolls, and 146 businesses.In its first year of operation, the city expects to reap $800,000 from an agreement under which it receives 25 percent of the net income of the project. The Rouse Company also pays the city what Mr. Ditch calls "good rent for the land and taxes for the three acres it leases." Although no overall figures are available yet, Rouse says the sales at Harborplace have swept far beyond what was originally anticipated in its initial several weeks. And Mr. Ditch suggests that Harborplace is no summer romance with the people of Baltimore -- that a series of concerts, art shows, ethnic festivals, and other drawing cards will keep the mall a year- round attraction with no winter slump.

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