Sport center proposed at city's Pier 4 $30 million facility needs mayor's OK

July 25, 1992|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

The Inner Harbor's next major attraction may be a $30 million sports museum featuring ABC TV's "Wide World of Sports" program and Baltimore native Jim McKay, if Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke accepts the recommendation of a blue-ribbon panel.

Called Sports Center USA, the entertainment center would be the first of its kind in the nation. Motion simulators, video, a large-screen theater and "virtual reality" computer technology are among the concepts under consideration.

Visitors could participate in interactive exhibits that simulate various sports events and experiences, such as skiing down a mountain slope.

After reviewing seven proposals for the city-owned Power Plant on Pier 4, a citizens' panel recommended the city give exclusive negotiating rights to a local development team that proposed the sports center.

The team includes Lynda O'Dea, president of the O'Dea Group and vice president of the Maryland Jockey Club, which runs the Pimlico and Laurel race courses; Joseph De Francis, president of the Maryland Jockey Club; and Henry Rosenberg Jr., chairman of Crown Central Petroleum.

Honora Freeman, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., said she accepted the recommendation of the three-member panel this week and sent it to the mayor.

Given the amount of scrutiny the submissions have received so far and the size of the proposed investment for the Sports Center, the mayor is unlikely to overrule the panel.

The panel was made up of Greater Baltimore Committee senior adviser Walter Sondheim; Baltimore businessman Grant Hathaway; and Clifton Henry, an economic consultant from Bethesda.

The panel also recommended that the city give the Sports Center team exclusive negotiating rights to the inlet between Piers 3 and 4, an area the group sought for possible water-related sports exhibits.

The Sports Center "speaks to many things we're looking for," Ms. Freeman said. "It has market breadth. It has the continued link to the city's sports heritage. It has international appeal to visitors. It's family-oriented, offering something for all ages and both sexes."

"We think it can turn a one-day visit to Baltimore into a two-day visit, which is very important to hotels and shops and restaurants," Ms. Freeman said.

"It marries the public's love affair with sports with computer technology," she said. The proposal also speaks to the public's increased demand for interactive participation in leisure activities rather than spectator events, she said.

Representatives of ABC Sports in New York, a division of the ABC television network, have expressed strong interest in transforming a section of the Power Plant into the site of an elaborate display about the "Wide World of Sports," showcasing the 31-year-old sports program.

As part of the display, video libraries would show "Wide World of Sports" events at the push of a button. A separate area would be devoted to Baltimorean Jim McManus, better known as Jim McKay, the original host of "Wide World of Sports" and a 12-time Emmy Award-winning ABC commentator.

Construction would begin in early 1993 and be complete in 1994, under the group's plan. Martin P. Azola would be the construction and project manager.

If Mr. Schmoke approves the selection, the team will use the negotiating period to work out the terms of a disposition agreement under which the city would lease the three-building complex so conversion could begin. The negotiating period will also give the group a chance to line up financing and finalize the design, construction and operation teams.

Ms. O'Dea said she was pleased to hear about the panel's decision. She said if the mayor gives the nod, her group would move quickly to assemble its team, refine its plans and meet with prospective funding sources and others.

Converted by the Six Flags Corp. to an entertainment complex in the mid-1980s but closed in late 1989, the 106,230-square-foot Power Plant was offered for development in April.

The panel also considered proposals for an ethnic heritage museum, several arts centers, a family entertainment center, a high-tech education center, and an off-Broadway theater and catering hall.

Ms. Freeman said her office would work with the other bidders to identify alternate city sites where they might carry out their projects, if they are interested.

Hope Quackenbush, head of the non-profit Baltimore Center for Performing Arts, said she believed that her concept for an off-Broadway theater remains viable and that she may begin searching for other sites. She said she has no hard feelings about the decision.

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