Power Plant gets 1st tenant Barnes & Noble signs as Inner Harbor site's revival picks up pace

February 20, 1997|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,SUN STAFF

Nearly seven years after Six Flags Corp. closed its Victorian fun house at the Power Plant, the Cordish Co. is scheduled to announce today the first definite tenant of the planned entertainment complex -- a two-story Barnes & Noble book and music emporium.

By next month, Cordish said, construction crews will begin transforming 28,000 square feet of dark and dusty space inside the three-building complex into a Barnes & Noble superstore, to open by spring 1998.

But while the nation's largest bookseller becomes the first tenant to be publicly announced by Cordish, it will not be the first to open.

David Cordish, head of the Baltimore-based development company, said at least one other tenant, a nightclub or theme restaurant, likely will open by June.

Cordish and Barnes & Noble officials are banking on turning part of the dormant former steam-generating plant into an Inner Harbor hangout. It will beckon with 150,000 book titles, 50,000 compact discs, a bistro, couches and easy chairs.

"We try to become a community center everywhere we go, and I think one of the most telling things we see in our stores is people saying, 'Let's meet at Barnes & Noble.' And we really want the Baltimore store to become like that as well," said Jennifer Wolfertz, a spokeswoman for the New York-based bookselling giant.

The Inner Harbor appealed to the chain because of its central downtown location and a host of other attractions to open nearby, Wolfertz said.

Barnes & Noble, which signed a 15-year lease with Cordish, will occupy two floors of the plant's center building and the building closest to Pratt Street, with a ground-level entrance and possibly another on the second level, and feature large picture windows facing the Inner Harbor, Cordish officials said.

Cordish's first announced tenant drew hopeful reponses that the Power Plant could help the city at last expand the tourism and entertainment district beyond the Inner Harbor malls.

'A home run'

"With a tenant like Barnes & Noble coming, if they can continue getting tenants of that quality, of that caliber, with that reputation, then it's certainly going to be a home run for downtown Baltimore," said Carroll R. Armstrong, president of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association.

The store will capitalize on the turn-of-the-century plant's signature features, with a design displaying plenty of exposed brick, ductwork and piping, as well as the plant's smokestacks.

"In many cases, they'll try to just fit a prototype into whatever building, but this is really being designed by us and Barnes & Noble to take full advantage of the character of the structure of the Power Plant," said Joe Weinberg, Cordish Co. vice president.

The store is designed to complement the mix of other Power Plant tenants and neighboring attractions, Weinberg said.

Other tenants

The other key tenants among nine that will occupy the 130,000-square-foot plant are to be announced within the next month or so, Cordish said. Likely tenants include Hard Rock Cafe; Second City comedy club; Dive, a theme restaurant featuring anything and everything submarine-like; Sega Dreamworks, a virtual-reality arcade; and a House of Blues or Blue Note nightclub.

"We want the Power Plant to be a place where someone can go without a specific agenda and know that they can browse in a bookstore, eat in a great restaurant, catch a live show," Weinberg said. "The whole mix works in terms of working all day, all hours, being a real complement to the area attractions."

This morning's announcement, outside the Power Plant, comes more than a year after the city chose Cordish to redevelop the Power Plant and about a month after the Board of Estimates approved a 75-year lease with the developer.

Barnes & Noble Inc. operates 433 superstores under the Barnes & Noble name, including stores in Bel Air and Ellicott City, and the Bookstop and Bookstar names. The chain also runs 611 mall stores under the B. Dalton Bookseller, Doubleday Books Shops and Scribner's names, and publishes books under its own imprint.

In moving to the Inner Harbor of "the city that reads," Barnes & Noble is bucking a recent trend: the exodus of major booksellers from downtown to suburbia. Encore Books closed its two downtown stores in June, and Gordon's Booksellers closed its downtown store in 1995.

Exceeding expectations

But Barnes & Noble, as well as other bookselling giants such as Borders Books & Music, have succeeded in cities where smaller and midsized stores have failed.

Its stores have exceeded expectations with their mix of cafes, books and music and plenty of space for relaxing. The stores now double as places to take in book or poetry readings, listen to musicians jam, bring the kids for shows by costumed characters, or even find a date.

Pub Date: 2/20/97

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