Proposals offer mix of styles of diversion

October 01, 1995|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,SUN STAFF

As "urban entertainment destinations" spread across America, a version of the new breed of grown-up playground appears likely to make its way to Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

Three proposals from prospective Power Plant tenants put heavy emphasis on fun, late-20th-century style.

The plans include:

* "The European Experience," proposed by Great Britain's Grandname Ltd., featuring virtual "journeys" through 15 European countries, with rides simulating everything from skiing in the Alps to fishing in the Mediterranean.

* "Sports Central," backed by several local businesspeople, would rely on state-of-the-art technology to simulate sporting activities.

* And the Baltimore-based Cordish Co. envisions virtual reality games and multimedia theater and exhibits, along with more traditional entertainment.

But none rely solely on wizardry. Each includes other, more traditional entertainment options designed to infuse the 106,200-square-foot complex with new life.

In about a month, the city's economic development agency, Baltimore Development Corp., is to select one of these proposals:

METROPOLIS AT THE POWER PLANT

Blending high-tech and "high-touch" activities, Metropolis promises fun for families by day, entertainment for adults by night. Proposed attractions would include a major 3-D simulations theater operated by an industry giant such as IMAX, Sony or IWERKS. All three operate similar "interactive" theaters in other cities.

A proposed high-tech entertainment center/arcade would offer the latest in virtual reality, immersion and other entertainment and could be operated by Sega, which is running similar attraction at the Luxor Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, where 6,000 customers a day flock to 200 high-tech diversions.

Cabaret theater, a dinner theater and a comedy club showcasing national talent, a large-scale blues venue or country night club could add to the entertainment options. Customers would dine at a major themed restaurant such as a Hard Rock Cafe or Planet Hollywood and shop at huge retail stores such as Nike Town, Borders Books and Music or Virgin Records Megastores. Harborplace's promenade would extend east and lead into a central atrium.

The Baltimore-based Cordish Co., headed by David Cordish, proposed the $18 million project and has the financial backing of Alex. Brown & Sons. Mr. Cordish, who has earned a nationwide reputation for reviving projects that had failed, is now transforming a vacant convention center in Houston into the $30 million Bayou Place, a 150,000-square-foot entertainment complex.

SPORTS CENTRAL

Using simulation and virtual reality technologies, the sports-themed complex would enable customers to compete against a likeness of Wayne Gretzky in hockey with the help of real pucks and fake ice, play baseball with a team of legends using an actual ball, race in a Nascar simulator or ski downhill in Olympic event.

Turbo sports rides with motion simulators would re-create whitewater rafting, bungee jumping and skydiving. IMAX Ridefilm Theaters would show simulation films that "immerse" viewers using you-are-there technology created by Doug Trumbull, the special effects wizard who created "Back to the Future -- The Ride" at Universal Studios.

The $30 million project also would feature a 1,200-seat arena showcasing professional athletes, sports clinics, seminars and live sports exhibitions. Rounding out Sports Central's offerings would be a formal banquet hall for gatherings of up to 2,500 guests. The banquet hall would be operated in conjunction with the adjacent Inn at Pier 5.

Pier Group Partners Ltd., a local group of investors, proposed Sports Central. The effort has been spearheaded by Otis Warren Jr., a prominent real estate developer and a partner of the Pier 5 hotel. Sports Central would revive a similar sports-themed complex proposal that collapsed in August when financing fell through.

THE EUROPEAN EXPERIENCE

The only project led by a foreign company, Britain's Grandname Ltd., would feature virtual "journeys" through 15 European countries, with rides simulating experiences such as flying a balloon over a provincial town square. Holograms would simulate ancient villages and encounters with Shakespeare, Michelangelo and Einstein.

Each country would be divided into a mini-theater, a virtual reality simulator and an exhibitions area selling souvenirs. Exhibits would trace the history of each country and milestones. A theme-based square would be at the center of each of the 15 country attractions.

Customers could sample food from different countries or dine at a seafood restaurant in the "central dome" area. The section also would be used for receptions, special events and exhibitions.

Credit Lyonnais, a French bank, would finance the $18.6 million project. Grandname, a London-based company chartered in the British Virgin Islands, is a conglomerate working with Thomson-CSF, one of the world's leaders in virtual reality rides and entertainment, and Finurba LDA, a Grandname subsidiary and one of Portugal's largest architectural firms.

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