Party is still over at once-promising Fishmarket, Power Plant City unable to find tenants, projects

September 07, 1991|By Blair S. Walker

The massive, downtown entertainment complexes were supposed to be tourist magnets.

These days, all they collect is dust.

The Fishmarket and the Power Plant, each closed for at least a year and a half, are mammoth blemishes on the Inner Harbor's economic landscape. Attempts to revive them, and their contributions to the city's economy, have been complicated by the recession and tight financing.

Is it possible they might be reopened any time soon?

No one, from developers to city officials, seems to know for sure, although one economic development spokesman remains confident the Power Plant will reopen eventually.

The $25-million Fishmarket, which featured six clubs and two restaurants, was the first of the two entertainment complexes to close, putting more than 400 people out of work in July 1989.

"It's still our desire to reopen the facility, but we're not prepared to make any announcement relative to opening dates or operating teams or any other component of the project at this point," said Merrille H. Diamond, a spokesman for Fishmarket developer Frank H. McCourt Jr.

City finance director William R. Brown Jr. said the Fishmarket was producing tax revenues at a $300,000-per-year clip when it closed after eight months. The closure was precipitated by the 78,000-square-foot facility's former operator, Orpyland USA Inc., which said Mr. McCourt and his Boston-based owners group weren't footing the Fishmarket's operating expenses.

"We've had discussions off and on for the past years over their reopening," Mr. Brown said. "I don't know exactly what their plans are."

Mr. McCourt has floated a number of proposals to reopen the Fishmarket that have quietly evaporated. The last, announced last fall, projected that the facility at 35 Market Place, a few blocks east of the Inner Harbor, would be open by spring 1991. The plan attracted city and state financial backing before it fell through, when the operators with drew without explanation.

The massive Power Plant, a former Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. structure that opened as a $30-million indoor amusement park in 1985, has been empty since January 1990. The amusement park had been gone for some time by then, and a nightclub/banquet operation was in place when operator Six Flags Corp. threw in the towel.

The city bought the Power Plant, at Pier 4, from Six Flags to lease it to another operator. At least six proposals were submitted to the city, including a plan by a team that included Westinghouse Co. and American Telephone & Telegraph Co. to convert the Power Plant into a high-technology communications center. Other proposals included a children's museum, an art museum and a performing arts theater.

"For a variety of reasons, we didn't think any of [the plans] were ready to go, economically," David M. Gillece said. He heads the Center City-Inner Harbor Development Corp., a quasi-public agency that oversees downtown development.

The city has no deadlines for getting the Power Plant leased, according to Mr. Gillece. "Our major concern is finding a use that's going to succeed there in the long-term -- we don't want to do a quick fix that makes it look like a victory, and have the doors shut again in 18 months.

"We're not pessimistic about the ultimate re-use of the Power Plant as a tax-generating property in the Inner Harbor, or as one that contributes money to the economy of downtown Baltimore."

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