Spring of Hope for the Fishmarket

March 24, 1994

As Mother Nature produced an impressive sneak preview of what the weather may be like this spring, smiles and good humor were in ample supply yesterday. Bright sunshine and lunchtime crowds at the Inner Harbor prompted even David Cordish, the Baltimore-based nationwide developer who's typically cautious about making predictions about his future deals, to wax optimistic over his chances to reopen the long-dormant Fishmarket entertainment complex near the waterfront.

He revealed that the initial developer, McCourt Co. of Boston, had paid off some $30 million it had borrowed to renovate that old Victorian temple of fishmongering. If the question of back taxes -- which he discussed recently with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke -- can be resolved, Mr. Cordish said he would step in as an equity partner in a new venture that would open the complex this summer.

"It's fine that the mayor and I see eye to eye, but that general understanding has to be reduced to a written agreement," he said. "There is many a slip between the cup and the lip. We ain't there yet."

Mr. Cordish's remarks substantiated recent hopes that one of the cornerstone developments that was to expand the Inner Harbor tourism area but quickly flopped can be re-launched as a successful entertainment and retail complex. If everything goes as he plans, Mr. Cordish said the 85,000-square-foot Fishmarket would be reopened incrementally, venue by venue.

"There was nothing wrong with the Fishmarket concept or acceptance," he said of the building's format as a mall of music bars. He blamed its 1989 closing on "problems with curtailing expenses."

We hope the city and the Fishmarket principals can reach a speedy accommodation. From the viewpoint of the Inner Harbor's expansion, a reopened Fishmarket is crucial. Now that a $30 million educational and entertainment center for children is being planned for the Brokerage complex next door, the area's safety has to be re-established in the public's mind. A venture such as the Fishmarket, which would rely heavily on night-time adult crowds, could help with that.

Most of Mr. Cordish's retail and entertainment interests are outside his native Baltimore, but he has an excellent track record: A hotel-retail combination he built in Charleston, S.C., expanded that historic city's traditional tourism district, for example. The trick now is for the city and the Fishmarket principals to sign a formal agreement that could duplicate that success in Baltimore.

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