Who should run Pier Six? Inner Harbor pavilion: City should investigate private management for concert venue.

September 19, 1996

CONCERTS AT the Pier Six pavilion are worth more than the price of a ticket. Patrons get to see top musical acts while protected from the elements under a giant tent in a cosmopolitan setting. The city gets diverse audiences, from Johnny Cash fans to Patti LaBelle lovers, who come downtown not just to listen to the music but also to see the sights and probably spend some money in restaurants and shops.

This should be a formula that works to everyone's advantage. It hasn't, but that doesn't mean it won't. Some changes may have to be made. After two seasons under management by the Baltimore Office of Promotions, Pier Six is still struggling to reduce a $300,000 deficit incurred last year. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke says the debt has him thinking about hiring a private manager for the facility.

An overhaul of the giant tent in 1991 created a debt that its former manager, the Baltimore Center for Performing Arts, was unable to handle. In 1994, BCPA, which also managed the Mechanic Theater, begged relief. The state agreed to be responsible for $1.9 million in forfeited loan guarantees. The city took over Pier Six, forgave a $600,000 loan it had made and paid off a separate $527,000 bank loan.

The task of managing Pier Six was given to the Baltimore Office of Promotions in January 1995. It has been an educational experience for BOP, dealing with crafty concert promoters and avaricious musicians' managers, who know when they're dealing with a tenderfoot.

But BOP Executive Director Bill Gilmore says the pavilion's $300,000 debt had more to do with getting it into shape -- buying a new sound system, repairing leaky plumbing and cleaning up the place. Mr. Gilmore says the just-completed 1996 concert series did much better than last year's, averaging 2,200 patrons per show compared with 1,700 in 1995.

Perhaps BOP can do even better in its third season. But that shouldn't stop the city from exploring other options. Only by asking for proposals from private management firms can the city determine whether it should get out of the concert business. Like Baltimore's convention center and its museums, Pier Six serves the city by bringing a diversity of people downtown. In considering private management of Pier Six, city officials must ask if that is enough.

Pub Date: 9/19/96

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