State, city help with financing for Fishmarket

November 14, 1990|By Michelle Singletary | Michelle Singletary,Evening Sun Staff

Both the state and the city are stepping in to help reopen the Fishmarket entertainment complex in downtown Baltimore, which has been closed since July 1989.

The state has agreed to guarantee repayment of half of a $2 million loan that the Fishmarket's developer is seeking from its lender, according to Jane Howard, director of public relations for the state Department of Economic and Employment Development.

Frank McCourt Jr., the developer, is trying to borrow the money from the First National Bank of Boston.

To oversee the new Fishmarket operation, McCourt has hired Billy Bob Barnett, founder of Billy Bob's Texas, a defunct nightclub in Fort Worth, according to a city official who asked not to be identified.

McCourt's loan would be guaranteed by the Maryland Industrial Development Financing Authority, an agency under DEED's jurisdiction.

Howard said there are still details to be worked out between McCourt and the bank.

"We were just assisting with the financing," Howard said yesterday. "We realize it's an important development project for the city."

For its part, the city is negotiating with McCourt over the possibility of making available a substantial amount of money that it has held in escrow accounts since he bought the building from the city in 1985.

McCourt purchased the building for $900,000, of which $250,000 went directly to the city. The rest was put into escrow and earmarked for improvements to the surrounding area. Some of that money was spent as intended. It was not clear, and city officials would not say how much of the $650,000 originally put into escrow might be made available to help McCourt reopen the Fishmarket.

McCourt today referred all questions on the project to the Baltimore public relations firm of Boucher and Yuhanick. William Boucher, a partner in the firm and designated spokesman, could not be reached for comment this afternoon.

The $25 million Fishmarket complex was closed in 1989 due to financial problems after just nine months of operation. Nashville-based Opryland USA Inc. had been the original operator, but the company left after a dispute with McCourt over money.

Since the closing, McCourt has been working on reopening the 110,000-square-foot entertainment complex.

Bob Barnett, who is expected to replace Opryland at the Fishmarket, is known for founding Billy Bob's Texas, a 100,000-square-foot club that opened in Fort Worth in 1981 and closed in 1988. The club could hold up to 8,000 people and had four restaurants, 42 bars and shops and a rodeo arena for live bull-riding, all under one roof.

The club was closed in 1988 after Barnett, a victim of the downturn in the Texas economy, declared bankruptcy. The club has since reopened under new ownership and Barnett is no longer associated with it, according to a spokesman for Billy Bob's.

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