Pier Six gets a longer lease on life with approval to buy a bigger tent

October 12, 1990|By Edward Gunts

The future of one of Baltimore's prime entertainment venues, the Pier Six Concert Pavilion, became clearer this week when Baltimore's Board of Estimates approved a $4.2 million plan to replace the current facility with an even larger one by next year.

If construction moves ahead, the new tent would seat 5,000 people -- 3,500 under cover and 1,500 on the lawn -- as opposed to 3,133 now -- 1,933 under cover and 1,200 on the lawn. The operating season would be lengthened from three months to five months a year -- from May through September.

Hope Quackenbush, managing director of the Baltimore Center for Performing Arts, said the financing plan still must be approved by her board and by the City Council. Assuming it is, she said, it would put an end to years of uncertainty about the fate of the existing facility, which is 10 years old and so deteriorated it probably wouldn't last another season.

It also would ensure that the southern end of Pier Six would be the site of an outdoor concert hall for the next 20 years or more.

"It's very hard to do this when we have been living on a year-to-year basis," not knowing whether the old facility would hold up, Ms. Quackenbush said. "Now, we are really going to look at a permanent -- in the sense of 20 years -- facility. . . . It's going to be gorgeous."

Because downtown development is moving eastward, the new tent will be "in the middle of the activity," rather than on the eastern edge of downtown as it was when it opened in 1981, she added.

Under the latest plan, which must still be introduced to the City Council in the form of a resolution, the city would authorize the issuance of up to $3.7 million in Maryland Industrial Financing Authority revenue bonds to help pay for the replacement facility. That money, which must be repaid over 20 years, would be coupled with $500,000 in state funds authorized for the project during the last legislative session.

The new open-air tent has been designed by Future Tents Limited of New York to have an off-white, Teflon-coated skin that will enable it to last for 20 years or more, said Ms. Quackenbush. The replacement facility also will include a new entrance and ticket area, stage, dressing rooms, public restrooms and other "permanent" facilities to replace the temporary trailers and other structures used in the past.

Ms. Quackenbush said demolition of the current facility could begin Nov. 1. and that she would like to see construction of the new pavilion begin by year's end. She added that the larger seating capacity will enable the performing arts center to keep ticket prices as affordable as they have been in past years -- ranging from $10 to $22 per person for most acts.

"The more seats you have, the more capability you have of keeping ticket prices down," she said. "Theoretically, we will have seating for 5,000 people, which puts us in a very competitive position. It will make us much more viable."

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