Three plans offered for Power Plant Each proposal blends high tech, traditional draws

Holograms of Shakespeare

Development agency believes financial backing is solid

September 20, 1995|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,SUN STAFF

The Power Plant, Baltimore's shuttered behemoth, would come alive again with attractions such as simulated trips to Europe, virtual reality games or high-tech theaters under proposals before the city's economic development agency.

Baltimore Development Corp. officials yesterday began combing through three detailed plans to revive the complex, and all of them blend state-of-the-art technology with more traditional draws, such as restaurants, clubs and theaters.

Leslie Howard, the BDC development director, said the three proposals -- one from a London-based company and the others from Baltimore developers -- had considerable merit and, unlike many previous proposals, appeared to include solid financial backing.

The BDC is to appoint an independent panel to review these proposals, one of which is to be selected within a month to become the Power Plant's first tenant in five years:

* "The European Experience," pitched by London-based Grandname Ltd., would feature virtual "journeys" through 15 European countries, with rides simulating everything from skiing in the Alps to fishing in the Mediterranean. Holograms would simulate ancient villages and encounters with Shakespeare, Michelangelo and Einstein.

* "Sports Central" would convert the Power Plant to a sports-themed entertainment center closely resembling Sports Center USA, the planned complex whose backers had exclusive rights to the plant for two years until financing fell through in July. Lynda O'Dea, the sports marketing executive who led the previous effort, has returned, this time with financial backing from a local investment group headed by Otis Warren Jr., a real estate developer and owner of the Pier 5 Hotel and Restaurant complex.

* "Metropolis at the Power Plant," proposed by Baltimore-based Cordish Co., would offer a mix of "high-tech" and "high-touch" activities for families by day and adults by night. High-tech draws would include virtual reality games, multimedia theater and exhibits. The Cordish Co., led by David Cordish, also envisions children's theater, Broadway cabaret, a nationally known comedy club, a Hard Rock Cafe or similar major restaurant and retail stores.

The BDC-appointed panel of civic leaders and experts in finance and technology will scrutinize plans and the BDC is expected to select one within 30 days, Mr. Howard said. He said all three proposals put more than a little emphasis on fun, 1990s style, featuring high-tech innovations virtually unheard of a decade ago.

"It seems to be where the amusement industry is going," Mr. Howard said. He understands the phenomenon, for children and their parents, too: "It's like when the kids go to bed, we all play with the Nintendo," he said.

David Pearl, an attorney working with Grandname, said the $18 million proposal resembles a similar undertaking by the company in Brussels, Belgium.

Construction has begun in Belgium on a site that Mr. Pearl likens to the empty Power Plant: "It's a white elephant, and the government can't lease it out." But, he added, "We think the Power Plant is a terrific location, and it absolutely suits what Grandname is trying to do."

Sports Central's Mr. Warren said he has financial backing from local partners to foot the $30 million bill. The original Sports Center idea impressed him from the beginning, he said, and died only because of a lack of financing. He said he hopes to link Sports Central to his hotel by including a ballroom for guests and others, for instance.

"I think that this is something that will attract people of all ages," Mr. Warren said. "It's enough to bring people to Baltimore."

Blake Cordish, the Cordish Co.'s vice president for development, said Metropolis places heavy emphasis on offering day and night entertainment, including a large nightclub that could be converted for other day uses.

"You don't want it dark during the day and light at night, or vice versa," he said. "The streets around the harbor are very busy until about 9 at night, then they go dark."

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