Against a backdrop of old-time street lamps, a grand Victorian staircase and other decorations left by the last developer, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke symbolically handed off Baltimore's Power Plant to a new team yesterday and promised a "sports smorgasbord" unlike anything else in the country.
Ending 2 1/2 years of uncertainty about the Inner Harbor landmark's future, the mayor named a local group known as Sports Center USA Inc. to negotiate with the city for the right to redevelop the Pratt Street building.
Headed by Lynda O'Dea, Joseph De Francis and Henry Rosenberg, the team wants to turn the three-building complex on Pier 4 into a $30 million sports museum and entertainment center that will simulate a variety of sports experiences through a combination of memorabilia and high-tech wizardry.
"Sports Center USA . . . will bring a new dimension to the menu of Inner Harbor attractions," the mayor said. "It is one more sign that the Renaissance continues."
During a news conference inside the Power Plant, Ms. O'Dea said ABC Sports has committed to mounting a 10,000-square-foot exhibit showcasing its Wide World of Sports program and honoring commentator Jim McKay, a Baltimore native and Maryland horse racing enthusiast. She also unveiled renderings of exhibits planned for the center.
* "Fantasy Camp," a gymnasium-like setting that will host sports clinics, celebrity autograph sessions, trading card shows and fitness seminars.
* A 120-seat "Turbo Sport Theater" offering ride simulations.
* A 200-seat "Super Sport Theater" featuring a multi-sport adventure film on a four-story screen.
* Nine-passenger "World of Sports Simulators" designed to convey a range of gravity-defying sensations, from the free fall of sky diving to the G-forces of a rocket launching.
* A "Virtual Sports World," where "virtual reality" computer technology would be applied to create interactive simulations of golf, tennis, baseball and other sports.
"Will be a first"
"Sports Center USA will be the first national multi-sport museum and entertainment center in the U.S. and the first attraction that applies the newest amusement park technologies to the theme of sports," she said. "The objective is to provide the ultimate fantasy for sports enthusiasts and a thrilling and rewarding entertainment experience for everyone."
"It's going to bring a new audience into the city," Mr. Rosenberg predicted.
Ms. O'Dea is vice president of the Maryland Jockey Club and head of the O'Dea Group, Mr. De Francis is president of the Maryland Jockey Club, and Mr. Rosenberg is chairman of Crown Central Petroleum. They say the ownership of the project will be expanded to include other corporate and individual participants.
Mayor Schmoke said the group has been awarded a six-month negotiating priority, so that it can finish its designs and line up financing. Construction is set to begin in 1993 with completion by late 1994. Martin P. Azola is the construction manager.
Ms. O'Dea said she expects the center to draw 1.5 million visitors a year. "I would have to think it would be a little more male-oriented," but "it will appeal to a very broad cross-section," she said.
When it opens in 1995, the admission price will be $15 for adults and $9 for children, with special group rates, she added.
The project is expected to generate $1.7 million a year in %J amusement taxes and create 175 construction jobs and 100 permanent jobs.
No plans for gambling
Ms. O'Dea has said the group has no plans to incorporate gambling of any kind. But Mayor Schmoke said the city is not going to impose any restrictions on gambling in case the issue comes up in the future.
The mayor said he is taking the developers at their word when they say they have no plans for off-track betting or casino gambling. But "my belief is that, down the road, the city and the mayor may want to reconsider the question," he said.
For now, he said, "it's not going to be contemplated or encouraged in any way."
Sports Center USA is the first group to be awarded development rights to the city-owned Power Plant since the city bought back the lease of the Six Flags Corp., which operated an amusement center and nightclub from 1985 to 1990.