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Critics of Harborplace redevelopment challenge project with new charter amendment push

Critics of Harborplace redevelopment challenge project with new charter amendment push
Critics of Harborplace redevelopment challenge project with new charter amendment push 02:37

BALTIMORE -- Those opposed to a massive project to redevelop Baltimore City's iconic Harborplace said it is far from a done deal and are now gathering signatures for a charter amendment to restrict development there and at 19 parks across Baltimore. 

Chief among their challenges is getting 10,000 valid signatures in less than six weeks to get on the ballot in November .


Organizers gathered signatures during the packed Fleet Week events around Harborplace. 

Their measure would stop plans for two towers and hundreds of apartments slated to be built there that have the backing of top city leaders. 

"The Inner Harbor park has really been a catalyst for this referendum because its existence as public park is being challenged," said Michael Brassert of the Inner Harbor Coalition. "…There is only one park that is designated as a public park in the city's charter, and that is the Inner Harbor park. They all need to be protected in perpetuity as public parks, as public spaces."

Among those spearheading the effort is Thiru Vignarajah. The former mayoral candidate was collecting signatures Friday and acknowledged the obstacles. 

"There is going to be an army of volunteers—and we have about six weeks—but we've done the math, and we know there is such an appetite, such an interest in this issue. It's going to be a herculean lift. We're all realistic about it," Vignarajah said. "We all know that ballot measures get easily passed, especially when the city council bends over and allows private developers to do whatever they want. We're not going to let that happen."

The Harborplace pavilions that ushered in a renaissance in the 1980s have since largely emptied out and fallen into disrepair, and would be torn down under the proposal. 

The mayor and developer brushed aside critics who spoke to WJZ late last year. 

"Overwhelmingly, the responses that we have received have been amazingly positive. There have been a few loud folks who don't want change. I think change is hard," developer David Bramble of MCB Real Estate said. 

Mayor Scott told WJZ at the time, "We can't turn back the clock." 

Bramble argued the height is necessary for the vibrancy of the project and said the area will remain accessible to all.

"Those spaces are public, and they will always belong to the public," Bramble said.

Vignarajah countered, "To preserve it only for use and occupancy by the ultra rich in the form of luxury apartments. it's shameful. It's sinful."

He called the redevelopment "an abhorrent use of public land."

If Vignarajah can get the signatures, he may have to deal with another challenge: A competing charter amendment that will be on the ballot allowing the development to take place. If both pass, the conflict could end up in court. 

"Good luck to them if they think that's going work," Vignarajah said.


At his news conference, he later explained, "If they neutralize one another, they can't do anything. They can't build what they want to build unless this passes clean, so even under their best-case scenario where they cancel one another out, this effectively blocks the construction of luxury apartments."

Those against the development say whatever happens, they will keep fighting. 

"If our city leaders won't help the community out and do what's right, then the people of Baltimore have to step up and do it themselves," Brassert said. 

Charter amendments in Baltimore historically pass if organizers can get them on the ballot. 

The group against the current redevelopment plan has also set up a website at

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