Baltimore Beach Volleyball: Connect residents with the Inner Harbor

If you live here, you don’t use the Inner Harbor

Back in the summer of 2012, the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore came to the realization which most Baltimoreans were well aware of. Baltimore’s crown jewel – the Inner Harbor – is a place where most residents won’t or don’t go.

In the midst of “Sailabrations” and other extravaganzas, the missing ingredient is Baltimoreans. It makes sense. Whenever a destination is solely designated a tourist trap, the locals avoid it like the plague.

The Partnership put on a variety of promotions from concerts to free drinks to free outdoor yoga classes. All of this was an attempt to advertise its goal of making the harbor fishable and swimmable by 2020. The belief was that if you could get city residents to visit, then they would care more about the harbor’s water quality and be more diligent about their environmental impact.

But here’s the problem, everything they did is offered in all of the downtown neighborhoods – without the onslaught of tourists and chain restaurants. If these were the only carrots being dangled in our faces, there was no way we were going to bite.

Inner Harbor 2.0

And then there was hope. The dynamic between the City’s residents and its main attraction could change.

It’s been some time since Mayor William Donald Schaefer introduced to the world the Baltimore Inner Harbor. I was a little kid then. Now I’m closing in on a mid-life crisis. Suffice it to say, the harbor is in need of a makeover.

William Donald Schaefer's statue at the Inner Harbor. (MonumentCity)
William Donald Schaefer’s statue at the Inner Harbor. (MonumentCity)

The configuration and set up led to some “unmet opportunities,” which diminished its standing among other waterfront attractions around the country.

So the City gathered together a group consisting of “Harbor stakeholders, downtown and neighborhood residents, Baltimore youth, the Baltimore business community, and representatives from Baltimore’s design community” to breathe life back into the Inner Harbor.

They attempted to identify under-utilized areas and figure out how to improve their usage. They looked at other successful waterfronts not only across the country but globally to get some ideas.

What they found is that a waterfront done right can bring an increased quality of life for its residents.

I thought that the City planners finally got it. Our Inner Harbor doesn’t have to be that area that locals avoid or just use as a walk-through on nice days to get from Harbor East to Federal Hill.

Imagine what could happen if there were more enterprises like Baltimore Beach Volleyball (BBV) were young residents actually used the Harbor. They could serve as free advertising for the City showing the quality of life Baltimore provides to Millennials.

Visitors could see that all of Baltimore isn’t just alternate sets and extras for “The Wire”.

And then I read on

Apparently, it seems that the 2,500 weekly participants of Baltimore Beach Volleyball does not impress the stakeholders who came up with the proposal. Rash Field, where they play, was considered one of those underutilized spaces.

Connect the Inner Harbor with the Baltimore Beach Volleyball. (Courtesy)
Connect the Inner Harbor with the Baltimore Beach Volleyball. (Courtesy)

BBV is not in the new plans at the moment. What planners believe will increase usage of Rash Field is to build an underground parking garage topped by a park. Interestingly, across the street from Rash Field is Federal Hill Park.

So in reality, they want to build a park across the street from a park. The cost to build a parking lot and park across the street from an existing park is estimated at $40 million.

It reminds me of the Lewis Black bit where there’s a Starbucks across the street from a Starbucks and it’s the end of the universe.

Now why would the brains behind Baltimore Inner Harbor 2.0 come up with an idea that makes no sense to the majority of us? Well it seems that when they were looking around at other successful waterfronts, they came across Millennium Park in Chicago.

The park is the second biggest tourist draw in the city and has won many awards for its design. Because it sits on top of a parking garage, its considered the world’s largest rooftop garden. Now you see how they got here.

The City is doing it again

Kevin Plank, CEO of Under Armour, recently said that Baltimore needs to get it’s chip off its shoulder. This “stepchild” persona Baltimore takes on continues to get us in trouble. The City feels we have to emulate what bigger cities do and have to be adequate – even if it means building a $40 million dollar park across the street from an existing park.

The proposal rather than looking outward should have been more concerned with concentrating inward. What they would have found is that from 2000 – 2010 the number of college educated millennials living downtown increased by 12,000.

They should have also seen that thousands of these milennials, now 25,000 strong, love playing in co-ed leagues all across downtown. And just as hard as they play they also socialize. They spend money before their games and afterwards. Ask league sponsor bars what kind of an uptick in business they get from local co-ed sports leagues.

If they would have looked, they would have seen that Baltimore Beach Volleyball has already taken advantage of this growing demographic. In fact, demand to play is so strong that they have to turn numerous players and teams away each season.

Baltimore has a decision to make

Charm is defined as “a power of pleasing or attracting, as through personality”. Are we not Charm City?  We are not “Little Chicago” or “Little New York”. So let’s not try to be.  BBV has had Olympic beach volleyball stars play on their courts and served as a stop on pro-beach volleyball tours. Embrace what’s here and build upon that. The foundation is set.

The City is scared to be original with an idea that’s proven to be successful for more than a decade. Why cut out something that works to go all in on a risky venture the surrounding community doesn’t support?

Don’t show these new millennials that you don’t care what they think.

Here’s a chance to showcase to all the 13 million annual Inner Harbor visitors that’s there is a vibrancy in Baltimore highlighted by its young professionals. That sells a city – not a park across the street from a park.