Live from Power Plant, it's ESPN Sports network to put first in a chain of restaurants at harbor

October 15, 1997|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,SUN STAFF

The first ESPN Grill in the nation, a restaurant and sports complex boasting more than 200 video screens, interactive games from ice hockey to skiing and an ESPN studio, is to open inside Baltimore's Power Plant by spring.

The Inner Harbor project, the first in a chain of sports-themed restaurants created by Walt Disney Co. and ESPN, will consume nearly 40,000 square feet, behind a facade with an electronic "zipper" showing sports scores constantly, gigantic footballs, baseballs and basketballs on a skewer and "ESPN" in bold red letters.

Inside, visitors will enter a futuristic atrium immersed in everything sports.

A 16-foot screen will broadcast live sports and highlights, as will omnipresent monitors carrying different sporting events. Each seat, from the theater-style chairs in the "skybox" to booths, will have customized audio controls so viewers can tune in to the event they're watching.

Those inspired by watching can head for the entertainment arena, to slap a puck on simulated ice, kick a football, shoot hoops or hit a baseball. Virtual-reality simulators will complement the real thing.

The dining area, featuring dishes such as steaks, swordfish and pork chops, will double as ESPN studio sets, offering behind-the-scenes looks and a venue for regular live broadcasts. Neither Disney nor ESPN would say yesterday how often broadcasts might be beamed from Baltimore.

The newest tenant to move into the Baltimore-based Cordish Co.'s Power Plant project reflects the boom in urban entertainment, a blend of virtual-reality, theme restaurants, superstores and clubs.

"We want to make the ESPN Grill the place where fans can share their passion for sports, great food and great fun, a place where the cheering never stops," Michael Eisner, chairman and chief executive of the Walt Disney Co., said in a statement.

Art Levitt, president of Disney Regional Entertainment, said joining with the sports network would form a potent combination and instant attraction.

"ESPN has this extraordinary brand as a sports network, and Disney has the extraordinary ability to entertain," he said. "We combine the two to create this, and there's nothing like it in the marketplace, nothing like it anyone can offer anywhere."

Explaining the choice of Baltimore as the site for the ESPN Grill prototype, Levitt pointed to the popularity of the Orioles, the new Ravens stadium and the prime waterfront location inside the Power Plant.

He said the second ESPN Grill is expected to open in Chicago in 1999 and that others will follow in major U.S. cities.

David Cordish, who heads the Cordish Co., bubbled over with enthusiasm yesterday.

Since the opening in July of the Hard Rock Cafe, the Power Plant's first tenant, Cordish has repeatedly likened new downtown development to creating a sort of Disneyland or Disney World downtown.

"We decided, 'Enough talk about it being like Disney, so we went out and got Disney. There's no question this is going to move Baltimore up a big notch, and help the convention and tourism business immensely."

Carroll R. Armstrong, president of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, shared Cordish's enthusiasm.

"It just goes to show that the Power Plant is living up to its promise as an entertainment venue, which we know is acutely needed downtown," he said.

Plans for the sports smorgasbord, to occupy two floors in the Power Plant building closest to Pratt Street, remained prelimi- nary yesterday.

Disney and ESPN officials said it would hold at least 600 people, employ at least 200 and, of course, sell sports memorabilia aplenty.

A Barnes & Noble book and music store is to open by summer, and other possible tenants include theaters and night clubs.

In July 1996, ESPN Club at Disney's Boardwalk opened at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. The 13,000-square-foot operation features an interactive multimedia entertainment center, restaurant, interactive arcade and television and radio studios with 70 television monitors.

Pub Date: 10/15/97

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