History helped as Cordish landed Power Plant job White elephant snared by a developer known for rescuing projects

'We like 'em tough'

Panel and mayor were swayed by successes elsewhere

November 17, 1995|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,SUN STAFF

When the city chose the well-known Cordish Co. as the best bet for bringing a steady flow of visitors to the derelict embarrassment called the Power Plant, history weighed heavily in the decision.

The history of the complex, shuttered for more than five years after two commercial failures -- and last successful as a steam-generating power plant decades ago.

The history of the city's repeated failed attempts to find a tenant capable of redeveloping the hulking, three-building complex.

And, most important, the history of the Baltimore-based Cordish Co., known nationwide for redeveloping failed urban projects.

David Cordish, understand, looks for failures so he can turn them into successes, and he takes great pride in seeing and realizing potential where others see none.

"You know, we like 'em tough, and I like pressure," Mr. Cordish said yesterday, the day after his company was selected. "The fact that it's failed doesn't bother me. Most of our other projects had failed, too, with different developers."

Despite its national reputation, this will be the first Baltimore project for the Cordish Co. Cordish's proposed $18 million Metropolis at the Power Plant topped two other proposals -- a high-tech, sports-oriented entertainment complex and a virtual reality extravaganza featuring simulated trips to Europe -- to gain exclusive development rights for the complex.

The other developers had no track record to speak of.

The Cordish Co., by contrast, pointed to its highly praised work -- bringing glossy renderings aplenty, documenting numerous urban rescue efforts and testimonials spanning the nation.

Metropolis, featuring a broad mix of restaurants, clubs, retail stores, theaters and virtual reality games, differed from the other two proposals in one other key respect: The company plans to sublease space to major nationally known tenants such as the Hard Rock Cafe or Planet Hollywood.

The other two developers had proposed running the operation instead of subleasing.

"We plan to bring in world-class experts and let them do their thing," Mr. Cordish said. "The Cordish Co. is not going to operate a single inch of this building.

Look at the company's history, the developer urged. All of the 27 major Cordish redevelopment projects had a history much like the Power Plant's. Which is to say, all had a history of failure at the hands of other developers, leading to doubts about whether they could ever be revived.

In the end, that argument swayed the review panel appointed by the Baltimore Development Corp. and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who had the final say.

With a developer slated to move ahead with plans for the turn-of-the-century buildings at last, an all-too-familiar recent history appeared to change course this week, or so the city hopes.

Skepticism at last gave way to hope.

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