No room for errors Power Plant: Latest bids may be the last chance to save Inner Harbor landmark.

November 06, 1995

MAYOR KURT L. Schmoke and his advisers have a daunting task in selecting the winner from among three bidders for the Inner Harbor's Power Plant, the one-time electric generating station for streetcars which has been shuttered for the past five years. They must make the right decision in the next few weeks or this cavernous industrial relic that survived the great Baltimore fire of 1904 may be regarded as a white elephant that is jinxed.

In the 1970s, the Power Plant nearly became a luxury hotel -- until engineers questioned its ability to withstand the added weight. A variety of other uses have since been proposed for the Inner Harbor site. In the end, the administration of then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer granted redevelopment rights to the Six Flags Corp., which wanted to turn it into an urban amusement park. Six Flags tried several formats but failed to hit on the right one.

In 1992, the city awarded racing entrepreneur Lynda O'Dea and a group of investors rights to develop the Power Plant into a $32.5 million attraction called Sports Center USA. But last year, those exclusive rights were canceled after the group repeatedly failed to get financing for the project.

Among the three finalists now being considered by the Schmoke administration is a reconstituted O'Dea group, which says it now has financing for a sports-inspired complex, and a scheme by Great Britain's Grandname Ltd. to construct an $18.6 million attraction offering virtual-reality journeys through 15 European countries. The third proposal comes from the Baltimore-based Cordish Co., which wants to open an $18 million emporium of fun offering family attractions during the day and adult entertainment at night.

The written submissions clearly establish the Cordish proposal as the strongest one. It is flexible enough to be changed according to market shifts and it proposes to use the interior of the Power Plant without major alterations. More than that, however, the Cordish Co. has forged a track record for itself nationwide as a firm that can turn obsolete landmarks into profitable entertainment venues.

Because of its location, the Power Plant has high visibility. It must become a symbol of success and not a reminder of failure.

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