City OKs Pier Six takeover

October 20, 1994|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

In a deal that will cost state and city taxpayers $3 million, Baltimore is taking over the white-peaked Pier Six Concert Pavilion from the financially troubled nonprofit group that has been running it.

The takeover does not immediately threaten shows at the Inner Harbor summer venue, which has staged concerts ranging from children's singer Raffi to rhythm and blues act Maze to country star Kathy Mattea. The city will stage concerts through its cultural or tourism offices, or hire an independent contractor to do the job, officials said.

But the takeover does raise questions about the financial strength of the Baltimore Center for the Performing Arts, which also operates the Broadway-style Morris A. Mechanic Theatre downtown and occasionally stages shows at the Lyric Opera House.

"BCPA is having terrible financial trouble because of the Mechanic," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday. "They are getting wiped out over there. They can't run the Mechanic and [Pier Six]."

The key to the pavilion takeover is an agreement by the state and city to assume the debts of its operators. The state will be responsible for $1.9 million in forfeited loan guarantees; the city will forgive a $600,000 loan it made to the center and will pay off a $527,000 bank loan.

The takeover was approved yesterday by a 3-2 vote of the city's Board of Estimates.

It ends a 1991 financing arrangement by the city and state to expand the pavilion's deteriorated tent with a new cover and to increase seating from 3,100 to 5,000. The 13-year-old pavilion is noted for its scenic setting and diverse entertainment lineup.

Rita D. Chappelle, a spokeswoman for the state's business financing programs, said state officials did not ask the center to sell assets to satisfy the loan because the state is committed to performing arts in downtown Baltimore.

Liquidating assets "may have prevented them from being able to stage productions at the Mechanic," she said.

Steven A. Goldstein, general manager of the center, did not respond to several phone messages left at his office yesterday.

State Sen. Larry Young, a Baltimore Democrat who is a member of the center's board of directors, said yesterday that Pier Six concerts ran a total deficit of $100,000 to $150,000 in 1992 and 1993. He said the concert operation was expected to show a small profit for 1994 but that audited figures were not complete.

Center officials had been discussing for two years what to do about Pier Six, Mr. Young said. A divided board finally decided that the center should concentrate on its theater operation, including efforts to build a new theater in the midtown Mount Royal Cultural District.

"We were concerned about being spread too thin," he said. "It could have very well meant we could have had some problems a couple of years out."

Mr. Schmoke and William R. Brown Jr., the city finance director, said the takeover means that the city, which owns the land under Pier Six, will get a facility worth $3 million for about $1.1 million. It also means that the city -- and not the center's creditors -- will control the long-term lease for Pier Six, they said.

"Do we take it, or do we let the bank take it?" Mr. Schmoke asked.

City Council President Mary Pat Clarke excoriated the Schmoke administration for bringing the agreement before the Board of Estimates as a last-minute "walk-on" item that was not on the board's official agenda.

"This is major in its implications and fiscal impact," said Mrs. Clarke, who was joined by Shirley A. Williams, the acting comptroller, in voting against the takeover.

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