Children's museum proposed to revive city's Fishmarket

November 04, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer

In its brief heyday in the late 1980s, Baltimore's Fishmarket drew nightly crowds of yuppie twenty-somethings who wanted to dance to the beat of local bands.

Now the city hopes to capitalize on a new era. If the mayor and a private, nonprofit development corporation have their way, the settled couples of the 1990s will return to the Fishmarket, this time with their children in tow.

The city hopes to revive the failed nightclub complex as a children's museum, the anchor of a $30 million National Children's Center planned for Market Place near the Inner Harbor. Museum planners previously had intended to use the Brokerage shopping complex across the street.

Transforming the Fishmarket into the much-touted museum would allow the city to develop a much bigger themed project. The mostly vacant Brokerage would become a children's center, with shops catering to children and offices for children's advocacy groups, pediatricians and a day care center.

"We would market the whole site as something to support children," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said in announcing the new plans yesterday.

Douglas Becker, president of Sylvan Learning Systems tutoring company and chairman of the Baltimore Children's Museum board, said the shift in strategy will speed up redevelopment of the languishing Market Place.

"We're interested in doing something that would be much more than just another children's museum," Mr. Becker said. "We want to do something that's far more ambitious, that will be nationally known and completely unique. I think the proof that it will work is in the success of the aquarium and science center, which both do very well in terms of attendance."

Mr. Becker and Mr. Schmoke said opening the museum in the former entertainment complex would save construction time and money because the building already has been substantially renovated. The Fishmarket's size and compartmentalized layout also are well-suited for the proposed museum.

The private development corporation planning the children's museum, which is expected to draw more than 400,000 visitors a year, already has raised $10 million, including $3 million from NationsBank and $2 million from the state.

City officials are negotiating to buy the Fishmarket from G.A.A. Inc., a local corporation headed by Harvey Nusbaum and Jack Stoloff.

The corporation took control in late May, two weeks after the mayor announced that he and developer David Cordish had reached an agreement to revive the Fishmarket. Those plans called for reopening the nightclub complex by June.

Mr. Schmoke said yesterday that he's prepared to condemn the Fishmarket if the owners do not agree to the city's purchase price. He declined to discuss the city's offer in detail.

"There's been good discussion with the owners of the Fishmarket, and I think they will accept the offer we've made to them, though it's not a done deal," he said.

For his part, Mr. Nusbaum, president of G.A.A., said: "I just stand right behind the mayor with everything he says. We hope to cooperate with the city and move ahead with this project."

the same time, the city is ready to condemn the Fishmarket and present a condemnation ordinance to the Baltimore City Council before its December holiday recess, the mayor said.

The National Children's Center is the latest high-profile attempt to revitalize the downtown blocks beyond the gleaming Inner Harbor. The Market Place area has been largely deserted since the Fishmarket closed in July 1989.

Baltimore sold the Fishmarket, a 1906 landmark that once was the city's leading commercial fish market, to the Boston-based McCourt Co. for $900,000 in 1985. The company spent $25 million turning the building into themed nightclubs, bars and a 1,000-seat concert hall and opened it in November 1988. But McCourt closed it after a dispute with its operator, Nashville-based Opryland USA.

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