Power Plant smokestacks may fall Developer seeks OK to alter skyline fixture

June 06, 1996|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's Power Plant, whose brooding silhouette has been a fixture on the Inner Harbor skyline for decades, may be about to lose its stacks.

As part of a $30 million plan to convert the vacant power generating station into an urban entertainment center, developer David Cordish is seeking city approval to remove the four brick and steel smokestacks that rise from the middle building and loom over the harbor like sentries.

The developer said he needs to remove the stacks because they take up space that could be used for other purposes and are a deterrent to the tenants he hopes to bring to the Inner Harbor.

After the stacks are gone and the space inside is freed, Cordish said, his company would erect a rooftop replacement of some kind so the basic silhouette of the power plant remains the same.

The Baltimore-based developer said he initially did not want to remove the stacks for a variety of reasons, including its estimated $2 million cost. But he said that in meeting with prospective tenants he could not find any who would lease space in the middle building unless the stacks running through it were removed.

If city officials required him to keep them in place, he said, "we couldn't do this project" -- and he doubts anyone else could.

Cordish was scheduled today to outline his plans for the Power Plant conversion during a meeting with Baltimore's Architectural Review Board.

The proposed removal of the stacks is an important issue for the city to weigh because it would be a significant alteration to the city-owned building, by far the oldest in the Inner Harbor basin. The city intends to retain ownership of the building and lease it to Cordish so he can begin construction this fall. If his project failed and he vacated the premises, the city would be left with a Power Plant with no stacks.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was in Istanbul, Turkey, and unavailable for comment.

M. Jay Brodie, president of Baltimore Development Corp., who was briefed about the plan last week, could not be reached for comment.

The Cordish Co. was selected over two other bidders last year to recycle the Power Plant. Its privately funded project, due to open by fall 1997, is one of several multimillion-dollar proposals expected to strengthen Baltimore's Inner Harbor as a magnet for tourists and area residents.

Although no lease has been signed, the Power Plant developer has received interest from such nationally known operations as the Hard Rock Cafe, Planet Hollywood, House of Blues, Borders, Barnes & Noble and several large record store chains.

Dating from 1895 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Power Plant is a series of three connected buildings on Pier 4. The northern and southernbuildings are cavernous spaces that lend themselves to use as theaters or multilevel restaurants.

The middle building, through which the stacks rise, has tentatively been programmed to include several retailers on different levels, such as a bookstore, record store and microbrewery.

Made of curved steel plates that are overlapped and riveted to form cylinders, the stacks stand about 200 feet tall and project about 70 feet above the ridge of the Power Plant's roof.

Lined with brick, each cylinder is 13 1/2 feet in diameter at the top and 17 feet at wharf level. They serve no function, because the complex ceased to be a power generating station more than 20 years ago.

Cordish said his architect, Design Collective of Baltimore, considered many alteratives to removing the stacks, such as covering them with mirrored glass to create the illusion that they take up less space. But he said prospective tenants were not satisfied. "It would be a big enhancement" to remove them, he said. "You can't see around them. There's no way to display merchandise in this area. It would open it up."

In addition, he said, an engineering survey by George Evans Associates determined that the stacks were "no longer structurally stable" and recommended that they be removed before they collapse.

David H. Gleason, a local architect and preservationist, had mixed feelings about the plan.

"The smokestacks are the Power Plant. They're the most visible symbol of the idea of the Power Plant, this 19th-century giant of the industrial age," he said. "Is this a case of destroying the village to save the village? If this doesn't work, will they take more of the building away?"

But given a choice between losing the stacks or losing the entire building, Gleason said, he would want to see the Power Plant stay at all costs. "The most important thing is to save the building," he said.

Pub Date: 6/06/96

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