Market Place area in flux after decisions affecting Power Plant, Fishmarket

August 05, 1994|By Edward Gunts Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writers Eric Siegel and William Zorzi contributed to this article.

Baltimore's long-range strategy for the Inner Harbor changed course abruptly this week as prospective developers of several key parcels disclosed decisions that leave the Market Place area in flux.

Alex. Brown & Sons executives politely rejected the city's offer of an exclusive 60-day period to study the Pier 4 Power Plant as a headquarters site, but said they would still like a chance to negotiate for the property without preventing others from doing the same.

The investment company's refusal to accept exclusive negotiating rights was an indication that its chief executive officer, who expressed interest in the waterfront landmark several months ago, may be cooling to the idea of converting it to offices.

Alex. Brown's decision enables the city to negotiate simultaneously with that company and a group headed by Lynda O'Dea, who wants to convert the Power Plant to a $32.5 million entertainment complex called Sports Center USA.

Ms. O'Dea said the city's decision not to extend her group's development rights to the building when they expired July 31 was a "serious setback" because financial partners will not invest in the project unless the group controls the real estate.

Also yesterday, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke announced that the new chairman of the proposed Baltimore Children's Museum is exploring plans to recycle the vacant Fishmarket nightclub complex on Market Place along with the previously announced site, the former Brokerage shopping complex at Market Place and Water Street.

Conversion of the privately owned Fishmarket would free up more space in the city-owned Brokerage to build a National Children's Center, an office complex for children's advocacy groups and shopping center for retailers catering to children.

The combined investment in both children's projects is estimated at $30 million.

Meanwhile, Gov. William Donald Schaefer voiced strong objections to the idea of turning the Power Plant into offices for Alex. Brown.

"Now, I'm for keeping Alex. Brown, because they're one of the great broker firms in the country, in the City of Baltimore, an old name that would be lost," the governor said yesterday during his weekly WBAL-AM radio talk show.

But "the power station would not make a whole lot of sense," he continued. "It's the beginning of turning the Inner Harbor from entertainment, people draw, all the rest of these things, into an office complex. And the City of Baltimore certainly does not need that right now."

In a meeting with reporters, Mayor Schmoke defended his decision to offer the vacant Power Plant to Alex. Brown as a way to keep the company in the city after its leases expire in 1997.

Chief Executive Officer A. B. Krongard has said he won't rule out the possibility of moving the company from Baltimore if he can't find a suitable site. Representatives for Alex. Brown, which has 800 employees who work downtown, declined to comment on the city's offer. But yesterday afternoon, mayoral spokesman Clinton R. Coleman said Mr. Krongard had thanked the mayor for his offer but said he didn't need exclusive negotiating rights.

DTC Mr. Coleman said Mr. Krongard "wants to continue negotiating" for the Power Plant but didn't want to hurt the city's chances of landing another occupant if the investment firm decided not to relocate there.

After talking with Mr. Krongard by phone, Mayor Schmoke was upbeat about the response.

"I'm pleased to see their continued show of interest, which means they're still looking in the city. We're prepared to do all we can to keep Alex. Brown in the city," Mr. Coleman quoted the mayor as saying.

"We're delighted that they're willing to explore this and other options in the city," added Honora M. Freeman, president of the Baltimore Development Corp.

Ms. O'Dea said she hopes to meet with city officials as soon as possible to find out what the Sports Center group needs to do to get back on track.

"I'm certainly pleased that they didn't accept the exclusive, and I think that they've taken a fair approach to it," she said of Alex. Brown's response.

"It sounds as if they've tried to keep the best interests of the city at heart."

Douglas Becker, the new Children's Museum chairman,

emphasized that his group is "completely happy" with the Brokerage site. But he said he believes the project could be even stronger if it also encompassed the Fishmarket, vacant since mid-1989 on the opposite side of Market Place.

Both Mr. Becker and Mr. Schmoke said that using the former nightclub complex to house at least part of the museum would save construction time and money because it already has been substantially renovated for use as a public attraction. In addition, its size and compartmentalized layout are well suited to the proposed museum's components.

"It's a nice facility for the types of exhibits they have discussed," the mayor said. It "could be very attractive."

If the current owner is willing to sell it for a fair price, "I think it's a natural," Mr. Becker said.

"Bigger could be better, as long as it's added to [the Brokerage], not instead of it."

The building is currently owned by G.A.A. Inc., a local corporation headed by Harvey Nusbaum and Jack Stoloff. Mayor Schmoke indicated that the city may move to acquire the building by condemnation if it can't reach a sales agreement.

The mayor also said he believes the city would not be diminishing the Inner Harbor as a tourism destination if it allowed the Power Plant to be an office site. He noted that many more tourist attractions are under construction or planned nearby, including the children's museum, a proposed African-American history center and the Columbus Center marine research and exhibit complex.

"I don't see it as a negative for Baltimore. I think it would be very positive if Alex. Brown moves into the Power Plant and then we can build on these other attractions," he said.

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