Cordish Co. is selected to revive the Power Plant Developer plans a mix of places to dine, shop and have fun

November 16, 1995|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,SUN STAFF

Hoping to revive the long-dormant Power Plant, the city chose a Baltimore developer yesterday to transform the hulking Inner Harbor complex into a broad mix of restaurants, clubs, retail stores, theaters and virtual reality games.

Metropolis at the Power Plant, the Cordish Co.'s $18 million plan to revive the Pier 4 Power Plant, topped two other proposals to gain exclusive development rights for the 106,000-square-foot complex.

A six-member review panel appointed by the city's economic development agency unanimously selected the Cordish proposal over those of the other contenders.

Pier Group Partners Ltd., a Baltimore investment group, had proposed Sports Central, a sports-themed entertainment complex.

And a Great Britain company, Grandname Ltd., pitched the European Experience, featuring virtual-reality journeys to 15 countries.

The Cordish Co., led by developer David Cordish, has built a nationwide reputation for transforming about 30 projects, particularly urban ones, into successes. But Metropolis, scheduled for mid-1997 completion, marks the downtown-based developer's first Baltimore project.

"We've developed all over the country; but this is our hometown, and this one's special," said Blake Cordish, the company's vice president for development. "This is where my grandfather and my father grew up, and where I live."

He said the company would work closely with surrounding attractions such as the National Aquarium, the Columbus Center, Harborplace and the coming Port Discovery Children's Museum to ensure that Metropolis complements them.

The Cordish Co., which would bring the first development to the Power Plant in more than five years, promises to fulfill longstanding needs along the harbor, particularly for adult night life, while employing more than 200 people.

"There's a hole in the market; our view is that the future of Baltimore's economy has to be based on tourism. We need a nighttime adult venue," Mr. Cordish said. "That's what we see as the most important piece to come out of the Power Plant."

Thus, Metropolis plans call for attractions such as a dinner theater, a comedy club showcasing national talent, a large-scale blues venue or country nightclub and a major themed restaurant such as the Hard Rock Cafe or Planet Hollywood.

Grand entrance

A glass-paneled grand entrance along an extended Harborplace promenade would lead into Metropolis, which also is to include major retailers such as Borders Books and Music, Nike Town or Virgin Records Megastores. Rounding out the attractions would be a major 3-D simulations theater operated by an industry giant such as IMAX or Sony, and a high-tech entertainment center and arcade offering the latest in virtual reality.

Members of the review panel, appointed by the Baltimore Development Corp., pointed to Cordish's track record and the broad mix of offerings Metropolis would bring to the Power Plant. Some of the panelists expressed doubt about whether the other two proposals would generate sufficient visitors.

"We had to look at the experience of the developers, and we decided to go with the leader," said panelist Clifton Henry, vice president of Hammer, Siler, George, a Silver Spring economics and development consulting firm.

"There were questions about the sustainability of the other proposals," he said.

'Key component'

John R. Sundergill, the BDC's acting president, called the shuttered Power Plant a "key component" to expanding the city's $1 billion-a-year tourism industry and broadening the Inner Harbor attractions.

"The Cordish concept will be a great addition to this menu," he said.

The Cordish Co.'s plan had emerged the overwhelming favorite among tourism industry leaders, who praised its mix of day and night entertainment for children and adults as the best bet for bringing customers back to the Power Plant.

Gary Oster, general manager of the Stouffer Renaissance Harborplace Hotel, shared the sentiments of many in the tourism industry yesterday.

"As a tourism industry provider, I am absolutely ecstatic to hear that the Cordish proposal has been selected," Mr. Oster said, looking out his fourth-floor window at the brick behemoth. "It's almost as exciting as the NFL coming to Baltimore."

The Cordish Co. will hold exclusive development rights for 90 days, during which it is to negotiate a long-term lease with the city. It also is to begin negotiating leases with potential tenants.

The Cordish development team includes Design Collective as architect; and Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse as general contractor.

Except for some offices occupied by the backers of a sports-themed entertainment center whose plans to develop the Power Plant fell through last summer, the prime piece of real estate has remained empty for more than five years. All the while, tourist attractions surrounding it have bustled with the commerce of some 18 million visitors a year.

The red brick structures, with the four towering smokestacks that help define the waterfront skyline, have been mostly lifeless since Six Flags Corp. moved out in 1990 after losing millions on an urban entertainment center and a nightclub at the site.

Bidding was reopened

In 1992, the city granted exclusive development rights to Sports Center USA, but reopened bidding when financing collapsed. With many of the same key players and financial backers, Sports Center was resurrected during the lat

est round of bidding as Sports Central.

Leaders of the Sports Central project could not be reached yesterday.

David Gable, the chief executive of Grandname, expressed disappointment that the European Experience lost out, but called the process fair.

"We offered something that would bring people from outside the area into Baltimore," he said. "I don't believe the other two proposals would successfully do that."

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