In the 1950s the downtown waterfront contained an assortment of aging facilities-wharves, warehouses, rail lines, ship chandlers, tugboat operations, and ferry docks. The city of Norfolk made a significant decision. An area of downtown along the Elizabeth River should be transformed from a working waterfront into a public waterfront. As the old was cleared, the new appeared, beginning with the public esplanade and hotel in 1974. The first Harborfest celebration in 1977 demonstrated that public attractions could help revitalize downtown. Town Point Park and the Waterside Festival marketplace opened in 1983. Nauticus, the national Maritime Center, anchored the west end of the waterfront in 1994.
The three cannons at the head of Otter Berth were found during the dredging of this part of the waterfront in 1982. They are of unknown foreign origin, but their vintage is compatible with the bombardment of Norfolk on January 1, 1776. Otter Berth is named for HMS Otter, one of Lord Dunmore's ships that bombarded Norfolk on January 1, 1776.