New operators promise a splashier Fishmarket

November 16, 1990|By Eric Siegel

In the photograph accompanying yesterday's article on the Fishmarket, the man pictured with Billy Bob Barnett was misidentified. He is Merrill Diamond, a local representative for the McCourt Co.

The Sun regrets the errors.

The new managers of Baltimore's Fishmarket pledged yesterday to provide "quality value" to visitors to the Inner Harbor entertainment complex by keeping admission and parking costs low and adding new attractions and revamping old ones.

Describing the $25 million project that closed in July 1989 after just nine months of operation as a "wonderful facility that was under-utilized," managers Billy Bob Barnett and Spencer Taylor promised to keepbasic admission prices to $5 and sharply cut parking costs.


At the same time, they said they would add a retail booth to sell souvenirs and memorabilia; a stage where patrons could add vocals to the music tracks of popular songs; and arcade and carnival-style games of chance.

"An entertainment complex has to be a quality value, it has to be a bargain, it has to be a good deal," Mr. Taylor said. "All we heard about the [old] Fishmarket was that it was so expensive."

Noting that there are 7,000 parking spaces in the area, he said they were "negotiating to reduce the

price of parking greatly," but stopped short of saying whether the parking would be free as some reports had indicated.

In their first public comments -- given during a tour of the buildingthe two nightclub operators outlined plans to turn the Fishmarket Grille, formerly a steak and seafood restaurant, into an oldies bar and dance facility; to replace the carpeting in

Eubie's with a tile floor and turn the jazz club into a jazz-based dance club; and turn what had been an English pub on the second floor into a "down-home" rhythm and blues bar featuring local and national acts.

Mr. Taylor and Mr. Barnett who have teamed to operate such landmark nightspots as Dallas Alley and Billy Bob's in Texas and the Cat's Meow in New Orleans -- said they hoped to reopen the Fishmarket in early January.

Merle Diamond, local representative for the McCourt Co., the building's Boston-based developer, said the company was prepared "to spend a lot of money" to turn the Fishmarket into a viable enterprise.

He said that, contrary to published reports, the building would retain its name, which he characterized as a reflection of the owner's commitment to the city.

Mr. Diamond said the McCourt Co. chose Mr. Barnett and Mr. Taylor from an initial list of "between 50 and 75 names." He said additional local members of a management team would be added in the future.

Later, Mr. Taylor said he and Mr. Barnett would bring three managers they had worked with at other facilities to run the Fishmarket but would add a dozen local people in management positions. In all, he said, the complex would employ 500 full- and part-time workers.

Mr. Taylor said he believed the Fishmarket could attract 100,000 visitors a month -- an increase of about 25 percent above what the complex attracted when it was run by Opryland USA, the Nashville-based entertainment conglomerate. He said he anticipated that each person would spend an average of $15, not including admission, inside the building.

The Liberty Hall stage, the main concert venue, would have a separate focus each night, he said. Wednesdays would be "celebrity-oriented" evenings for upscale nightclub goers; Thursdays would be geared to the college crowd; Fridays would attempt to attract the "downtown suit and tie market" with the "best happy hour buffet in the country"; Saturdays would be "masses-oriented" and Sundays would be reserved for country acts.

Other planned changes, he said, include converting The Library, a sedate upstairs pub, into a special VIP room and opening up the enclosed diner.

Mr. Taylor said the reopened Fishmarket would feature "ball park-style snack food," but would not offer elaborate meals. "We're not in the restaurant business," he said.

He said he had been talking to such acts as Willie Nelson, Julio Iglesias and the B-52s about opening the facility in January.

Asked why he thought he and Mr. Taylor could make the Fishmarket successful when Opryland could not, Mr. Barnett said, "We can make things successful in the nightclub business because that's the business we're in. This was not run as a nightclub before."

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