Mary Sue planning sweet deal Museum at Market Place: Local confectioner wants to open family-oriented tourist attraction inside former city fish market by late 1998.

The Urban Landscape

January 04, 1996|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

A HALF-VACANT retail pavilion in the middle of Baltimore's Market Place corridor could become the site of a $3 million candy museum and "confectionery institute" by late 1998, if the owners of Mary Sue Candies move ahead with a project they've been planning for more than a year.

The Schmoke administration has given the local candy makers up to 18 months to complete plans for the family-oriented attraction, which could help draw thousands of visitors to the Inner Harbor.

Mark Berman, president of Mary Sue, has been looking since 1994 for a site near Baltimore's Inner Harbor and the $30 million children's museum proposed for construction in the former city fish market.

He said he reached a tentative agreement with the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development agency, last fall to use the entire second floor and part of the first floor of the city-owned Bennigan's building on Market Place between Water and Baltimore streets.

The 16,000-square-foot space last was occupied by a sports bar that closed several years ago.

Mr. Berman said Market Place was his first choice for the museum because it is in the tourist district and would be close to the children's museum, which is scheduled to open by 1998.

"I'm very happy to get it," he said. "We wanted to be where people would bring their kids. The best thing is that we don't have to build a building."

Mr. Berman said the agreement with the city gives him time to line up investors, develop specific plans for the site and coordinate with other attractions, including the children's museum.

"We'd like to integrate our themes with theirs," he said. "We have hoped from the beginning that they would be a close neighbor."

The two-story Market Place building, opened in the mid-1980s as part of the Brokerage retail complex at 34 Market Place. The Baltimore Development Corp., a quasi-public agency that guides downtown development, became its owner in 1993 after a private developer defaulted on bank loans.

The BDC has been seeking tenants that would be compatible with the children's museum and a proposed National Children's Center that would contain office space for nonprofit groups involved with youth issues.

The only other tenant of the building is Bennigan's restaurant, which occupies the south end of the first floor and would not be displaced by the candy museum.

Mr. Berman is working with Design Collective of Baltimore, an architectural firm, and Active8, a high-tech exhibit design team, to develop plans for the museum, tentatively called the Mary Sue Confectionery Institute.

An architects' rendering indicates it would be a multilevel attraction with exhibits called the World of Candy and the History of Candy. A Candy Hall of Fame, a "sensorium" featuring the smells and tastes of candy, a desserts-only cafe, a candy shop and the world's largest chocolate waterfall are planned.

The institute also would be a bona fide manufacturing center where visitors could watch Baltimoreans make and package the Easter eggs, saltwater taffy and other treats for which Mary Sue is known.

Now at 707 S. Caton Ave., Mary Sue Candies was founded in 1948 by Mr. Berman's grandfather, Sacha Spector, and partner Bob Ashton.

It was named Mary Sue in honor of Mr. Ashton's two daughters, Mary and Sue.

Mr. Berman, who became president of the company in 1993, said he has to resolve the terms under which Mary Sue would occupy the space and the mix of exhibits.

He said he hopes to start construction by mid-1997 and open by fall 1998.

Although the attraction is intended to be educational and motivational, he predicts that one of the most popular areas will be the candy shop at the end of the tour, which will feature German and Belgian chocolates and other sweets from around the world.

"We're going to have the best candy store anywhere," he said. "We want this to be the place you think of when you want to buy candy."

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