Fishmarket might reopen by June

March 19, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer

For nearly four years, the Fishmarket nightclub complex has stood empty and shuttered, a monument to Baltimore's inability to revitalize the downtown blocks beyond the gleaming Inner Harbor.

Now a prominent Baltimore developer appears poised to revive the failed entertainment center. The 1906 landmark, once the city's leading commercial fish market, could reopen as early as June, said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

The project would be the latest high-profile attempt to strengthen the Market Place area. The city also is encouraging the opening of a children's museum and center in the failed Brokerage shopping complex, as well as a $32 million SportsCenter USA, planned for the Pier 4 Power Plant.

Mayor Schmoke said he and developer David Cordish recently worked out an agreement to lower the taxes on the Fishmarket property, one of the main obstacles to getting the doors open again.

"I was pleased that we could move that forward," the mayor said Thursday during a breakfast meeting with reporters.

He offered few details on the agreement or the extent of the property tax reduction. However, his statement ended a new round of threats to begin condemnation proceedings.

At one point last month, talks with Mr. Cordish appeared to have snagged, casting doubts over the chances of the Fishmarket reopening. City officials had the building appraised with an eye toward condemning it. Meanwhile, Mr. Cordish maintained that he was moving forward with reopening the entertainment complex without the city's help.

Mr. Cordish -- who has built and managed office buildings as well as retail operations here and around the nation -- was on the West Coast and unavailable for comment yesterday. Officials at McCourt Co., the Boston-based owner of the Fishmarket and a 50-50 partner in the revival effort, also could not be reached.

The mayor said that he and Mr. Cordish have reached "an agreement in principle" that would require no financial assistance from the city beyond decreasing the taxes.

Mr. Cordish also asked the city to set aside parking at the garage at 414 Water St. for patrons. Parking problems and the high cost of admission were cited as two of the main obstacles that led to the Fishmarket's demise in July 1989.

The deal to lower the taxes and reserve parking will be presented later this month to the Board of Estimates, the five-member panel that must approve all city contracts and expenditures, the mayor said.

"If we stay on that timetable and the agreement is approved by both parties, then Mr. Cordish assures me that the Fishmarket will be open in June," Mr. Schmoke said.

The city sold the brick warehouse-style structure to McCourt Co. for $900,000 in 1985.

McCourt spent $25 million to turn the building into half a dozen themed nightclubs and bars and a 1,000-seat concert hall. In November 1988, it opened as a much-hyped nightspot.

But the complex closed less than a year later, after a dispute between McCourt Co. and the Fishmarket's operator, Nashville-based Opryland USA.

In an interview this month, Mr. Cordish said he expected to spend several million to reopen the Fishmarket, one stage at a time. "You have broken windows, and it looks bad and it doesn't do the city any good," he said.

Mr. Cordish said the last operators had problems in money management, not with poor attendance. Crowds of nightclubbers stood in line to dance and drink at the Fishmarket, he said, adding, "The basic concept worked."

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