Pier Six pavilion new, improved and ready for concerts

July 25, 1991|By Nestor Aparicio | Nestor Aparicio,Evening Sun Staff

IT WAS almost a night to forget, but Hope Quackenbush, managing director for Baltimore Center for the Performing Arts, remembers it all too well. The opening night for one of her organization's early projects, the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, nearly spelled disaster.

"We had a show with George C. Scott, and the mayor and the governor were invited, but we weren't ready," she said. "We still had people inside laying carpet down right up until show time."

Things certainly aren't expected to be that way tonight when the BCPA unveils the "new" Pier Six Concert Pavilion.

By tonight, before Ben E. King takes the Pier Six stage at 8, facility manager John Wright assures that all of the nuts and bolts will be in place, the lights will be put in motion and the box office will be ready for action.

Unlike many promoters claiming that their product is "new and improved," the folks at the BCPA and Pier Six can back it up.

With just one look at the new facility -- a giant, white Teflon-covered tent that appears on the horizon of downtown's waterfront -- the improvements are obvious.

Where the previous tent had two masts and a circular shape, this one has six and is rectangular, spanning the length of the pier. The new roof is 70 feet high instead of 50. Where trailers formerly lined the waterfront, now there is a permanent concrete structure with offices, a loading dock and five new dressing rooms for performers.

And, most importantly, the seating capacity has jumped from 3,133 to 4,341, with 60 percent more seats underneath the tent and 200 less under the stars.

But in designing the facility the question remained -- how do you put 1,208 more people in the same amount of space as before and retain the intimacy of the facility? The pier certainly didn't get any wider.

"We took every precaution to keep the people as close to the stage as we could and I think we have succeeded," said Wright, walking out toward the lawn and pointing out the perfect view. "It's only gotten better."

With $4.9 million to spend on the facility ($500,000 of funding from the state, a $500,000 loan from the city and $3.9 million in borrowed money), Wright, Quackenbush, general manager Karen Ritgert and designer Future Tents Limited spared no expense to make this facility state of the art.

The old facility, in place since 1981, used banged-up, folding chairs. A view from the new stage shows a sea of 3,341 orange fixed chairs with arms.

"I can't believe we have arms," Quackenbush said. "It's a real chair!"

And if they look strangely like ballpark seats, it's because they are.

When the planning committee was deciding on seating, Quackenbush and BCPA board member George Piendak came up with a brainstorm to contact the Maryland Stadium Authority about seats. The Pier Six folks not only got cooperation from the authority, but got the seats tacked onto the authority's original order of more than 48,000, saving Pier Six thousands of dollars.

Tonight's opener brings to fruition nearly two years of planning -- and decision-making by Ritgert, whom most involved with the project agree was the key player in getting the little things done.

"The hardest part of the job is that we put the design together as we went along," said Ritgert, who will be leaving her post in three weeks to accept a fellowship for a master's degree in public administration at Syracuse University. "Most of the time these kinds of projects are pondered and voted on and slept on. We had to make decisions quickly or it wouldn't be ready. We had acts booked and we couldn't afford to waste any time."

Once again WJZ-TV (Channel 13) will sponsor the summer's Harborlights concert series, which now boasts 31 acts, including Hall and Oates and Pat Benatar tomorrow and John Denver on Saturday.

Wright, who also is the talent coordinator for the facility, said more acts could be added for September shows and in future years the schedule will run from May through early October.

Pier Six 1991 schedule

?5Ben E. King .. .. .. .. .. .. July 25 .. .. .. .. $6

Hall & Oates, Pat Benatar.. .. July 26 .. .. ..$17.50, $22.50

John Denver .. .. .. .. .. .. July 27 .. .. .. $23.50, $28.50

Temptations, Four Tops .. .. . July 28 .. .. .. $17.50, $22.50

Frankie Beverly and Maze .. .. July 30 .. .. ..$17.50, $22.50

Howie Mandel, Dennis Miller .. Aug. 1 .. .. ..$19.50, $25

Patti LaBelle .. .. .. .. .. .. Aug. 3, 4.. .. $27.50, $32.50

James Ingram, Patti Austin, .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .

George Howard, Keiko & Kazu, .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ...

Matsui, Alex Bugnon, Earl Klugh.. Aug. 6 .. .. $19.50, $25 ..

Third World, Ladysmith Black Mambazo,.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..

Arrow .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Aug. 8 .. .. .. $17.50, $22.50

John Hiatt .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Aug. 9 .. .. .. $17.50, $22.50

Sharon, Lois & Bram .. .. .. .. Aug. 10 .. .. .. .. $10, $12.50

(shows at 4 and 7 p.m.)

Al Jarreau .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Aug. 11 .. .. .. .. $23.50, $28.50

Dionne Warwick, Burt Bacharach ..Aug. 14 .. .. ..$23.50, $28.50

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