Will the Fishmarket reopen?

March 18, 1994

Among the Baltimore white elephants that commemorate excesses of the 1980s real estate boom and bust, the Fishmarket occupies a singular place. Private developers borrowed more than $25 million to reconvert that temple of fishmongering into a veritable mall of bars and eateries, each with a different theme. After less than a year in operation, the emporium closed abruptly in July 1989. It has been boarded up and padlocked ever since.

After a number of premature rumors, the Fishmarket now appears to be on the comeback trail. Final details still need to be ironed out, but the entertainment center along Market Place, just a couple of blocks from the Inner Harbor, could be back in business later this year. This time it would be run by David Cordish, a Baltimore developer of successful retail operations who is better known in many other cities throughout the nation than he is in his hometown.

We hope no last-minute glitches occur and that the Fishmarket can be reopened. Baltimore needs the vibrancy of more crowd attractions to keep the Inner Harbor magic going.

The possibility of the Fishmarket's reopening comes at an interesting time. Next door the Brokerage retail and office

complex, which also went bust when recession set in, is being revived as an educational and entertainment center for children. There is also talk about reopening the bankrupted Powerplant entertainment complex, along Pratt Street, as a virtual-reality sports extravaganza.

The future viability of the Fishmarket depends on two factors: a cutback in the debt burden and a winning entertainment concept. The former is a problem for bankers and lawyers. The latter will require some sharp business acumen.

The conventional wisdom is that there was nothing basically wrong with the Fishmarket's original concept of music and bars. Even if that thinking is accepted and all the blame for the complex's failure is put on heavy debt load and light weeknight attendance, business conditions may have changed in the past four years.

Just ask Lou Principio, owner of the enormously popular Hammerjacks in South Baltimore. "People are not drinking. Any business that depends on alcohol consumption is doomed," he argues.

Heeding his own belief, he closed the Hammerjacks night club at the end of last year and now simply rents the hall to promoters of rock concerts or other crowd events. "We have done what all businesses have done in the '90s," he explains, "we have downsized."

The Fishmarket's success this time will depend on more than restructuring the debt. But an imaginative all-day format could make it a success.

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