A makeover that’s more than skin-deep?

PART 2: People outside the Visitors Center say they want much more out of the Inner Harbor than a facelift of tourist attractions.

Inner Harbor worker 3

Advocates say the treatment of the Inner Harbor’s low-wage workers needs an overhaul, too.

Photo by: Fern Shen

As city leaders were promoting a plan yesterday to make the Inner Harbor “more exciting” for tourists and family friendly for locals, activists were rallying around a very different set of waterfront problems – the pollution of Chesapeake Bay and the poor treatment of low-wage workers there.

“This year’s crab yield was one of the lowest in history! We have 40-mile dead zone due to nitrogen and phosphorus!” said Julia Fiore, an organizer for Food and Water Watch, at a news conference held yesterday morning in Waverly.

"Make Perdue Pay" protest organized by Food &Water Watch. (Photo by Fern Shen)

“Make Perdue Pay” protest organized by Food and Water Watch. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Fiore was part of a small group preparing to deliver to the office of Del. Maggie McIntosh (D., 43rd District) a petition with more than a thousand signatures from Baltimore residents, calling for her support on a bill to make Perdue Farms pay for its role in adding to nutrient pollution in Chesapeake Bay.

Pollution was the first thing that came to mind when The Brew struck up a conversation yesterday with a Federal Hill resident, who was jogging near the Visitors Center where the Inner Harbor makeover had been officially unveiled.

“They can fix it up all they want, but if it stinks like it does in the summer, who’s going to go there?” said Alan Rodriguez, recalling the sight of hundreds of dead fish in the Inner Harbor last July.

The Multiplier Effect

The waterfront touristic face that Baltimore presents to the world these days is a flashpoint for some of the city’s hottest issues – the environment being just one of them.

Crime, free speech, rising sea levels due to climate change, a proposed city begging ban and low-wage workers’ rights have all bubbled up in recent months with an Inner Harbor focus.

Chain restaurants and attractions dominate at the Harbor these days. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Chain restaurants and attractions dominate at the Harbor these days. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Proponents of the waterfront facelift have a particularly sticky public relations problem, as they push a project that would cost tens of millions of dollars (no price tag was given) in a city with deep poverty, neglected neighborhoods and citizens increasingly opposed to tax breaks for glitzy downtown projects.

One answer that city officials had for that critique yesterday was a report by  HR&A, a New York strategic advisory group, that puts a dollar figure on Inner Harbor tourism.

In 2012, it said, about 14 million tourists came to the Inner Harbor and, along with the employment of some 3,000 workers, they generated $2.3 billion in economic activity for the region.

Speaking Up for Workers

Labor groups organizing at the harbor have been saying workers and local residents see few of those benefits.

Yesterday afternoon, former Inner Harbor ESPN Zone workers were downtown in front of the federal courthouse, discussing their recent victory in a legal action against the Disney subsidiary. (The company had abruptly laid off roughly 140 workers and failed to give them 60 days notice when they shut their doors in 2010. The labor advocacy group United Workers worked with the former ESPN Zone employees on the case that Disney eventually agreed to settle.)

Planners think the Harbor's light fixtures need to be updated and made consistent across the  area. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Planners think the Harbor’s light fixtures need to be updated and made consistent across the area. (Photo by Fern Shen)

United Workers has been pushing for a “Fair Development” agreement for Inner Harbor workers, saying they are subjected to chronic wage theft, abusive working conditions, a widespread lack of health insurance and sick days and an inadequate response to workplace injuries.

Today, in conjunction with Unite Here! Local 7, they called on the proponents of Harbor 2.0 to include “increased benchmarks for worker rights” in any waterfront makeover plan.

Families vs. Volleyballers?

The people braving November chill yesterday at the Harbor weren’t particularly political, but they did have some strong opinions.

Katharine Bauer, of Nuremburg, Germany, was rolling a ball up a ramp for two-year-old Louisa to kick back. Told that city officials were talking about putting a playground nearby, she responded with some heat.

“Tell me about it. I’ve been looking for a playground!” said Bauer, in town with her husband, who was working on the Christmas Village opening  soon at West Shore Park.

Rash Field may be a party in the summer, with the music and the volleyball, but it does look kind of shabby right now. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Rash Field may be a big party in the summer, but it does look kind of shabby right now. (Photo by Fern Shen)

She lamented that the carousel was closed, pointing out that she had just been in Philadelphia, where the carousel was open and cheaper.

Rodriguez, meanwhile was incensed about the plan for Rash Field, which appears to be replacing the sandy outdoor volleyball area with a park and playground oriented to families.

“What are they talking about? There’s whole big playground right there, up on top of Federal Hill!” he said, pointing across Key Highway. He said he loves to play and watch beach volleyball at Rash Field in the summer.

“Sometimes,” he said, “I just don’t get this city.”

Inner Harbor reflected in the Ripley's Believe it or Not "floating" granite ball. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Inner Harbor reflected in the Ripley’s Believe It or Not “floating” granite ball. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Loading zones and service doors along Pratt Street suggest to some a development that presents its "backside" to the city. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Loading zones, dumpsters and service doors along Pratt Street suggest to some a development that presents its “backside” to the city. (Photo by Fern Shen)

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  • James Hunt

    “Glitzy”? The harbor? Don’t make me larf. Why is that local journalists can’t write about the harbor without using either “glitzy” or “glittering”? Do y’all not get out of town much? It’s neither “high” glitzy like Vienna nor “low” glitzy like Vegas. It’s a path around a brackish tributary with some shops and ships and trees that never seem to grow taller than the day they were planted.

    As much as local lefties complain about the harbor, seldom in any local media is there any sort of consistent look at what’s going on in Upton or Darley Park or Perkins Homes. The chorus is predictable: one minute, it’s “why can’t we be more like London or Boston (which built Millennium Bridge and the beautiful Leventhal Park)”; the next it’s, “Aiiiieee. Why is the city even contemplating building something at the harbor when there’s so much gloom, despair, agony … deep, dark depression, excessive misery?”***
    ***Yes, I did crib that line from the beloved 70s tee vee program, “Hee Haw” … “if it weren’t for bad luck, we’d have no luck at all.”

    • Eldon Tyrell

      Hee Haw my ass.

      The lyrics to “Born Under a Bad Sign” were written by Stax Records rhythm and blues singer William Bell, with music by Stax bandleader Booker T. Jones. As Bell recalled in an interview:

      “We needed a blues song for Albert King … I had this idea in the back of my mind that I was gonna do myself. Astrology and all that stuff was pretty big then. I got this idea that [it] might work.[4]

      ”Bell’s lyrics describe “hard luck and trouble” tempered by “wine and women”, with wordplay in the chorus in the turnaround:

      Born under a bad sign, been down since I began to crawl If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all

      Similar lyrics are found in Lightnin’ Slim’s 1954 swamp blues song “Bad Luck Blues”:[5]

      Lord if it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all (2×)You know bad luck has been followin’ poor Lightnin’, ever since I began to crawl Now folks I was born in the last month of the year…

      • James Hunt

        Now, Eldon, two things: (1) it is bad form to dissent by reference to one’s own derriere and (2) it is within the realm of possibility that Buck Owens and the rest of the Hee Haw gang cribbed that line from Mssr. Bell for their ditty, which, in toto, was as follows:

        “Gloom, despair, and agony on me/Deep dark depression, excessive misery/If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all/Gloom, despair, and agony on me.”

        The aforesaid served as a refrain for spoken (not sung) recitations of outrageous ill fortune by various HH cast members. They may have lifted the riff to give their fellow musicians a gentle ribbing. Sadly, Hee Haw went off the air in the late 70s following the repeated remonstrations of the Committee Against the Castigation of Appalachian-Americans (CACA-A).

        Caveat: this is from memory and not from Wikipedia, so I may be mistaken on a point or two.

  • curatednonsense

    Death to the Rusty Scupper!

  • LessHumid

    the Harbour, as we know it today, is 40 years old and they [the City]
    want to “rehab” it. Said rehab is estimated to take 40 years. When the
    rehab is done it’ll be time to rehab the rehab. I smell a rat. …or is that a load of dead fish?

    • James Hunt

      Never done home improvement, eh? Hey, you got a house. Why in the world would you want to make it better? Incidentally, take a peek at the city budget sometime. In ten years, in current dollars, we’ll have spent north of $350 million on homeless services (not including tens of millions more each year in private dollars and in-kind contributions). The “problem” will not have improved one iota. There’s yer rat, laddie: the poverty industry.

  • Andrew

    Sure, it needs some maintenance but NOT a bridge!

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