New life for Power Plant Rebirth: A thousand laborers are renovating the harbor-front structure for an entertainment complex including the first ESPN Grill.

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

Inside the Inner Harbor's old Power Plant, thunderous staccato crashes resembling machine-gun fire reverberate, and concrete crumbles like so much dirt.

Over and over, the arm of a small yellow crane rises and falls with a vengeance, its hydraulic steel spike pulverizing slabs of concrete that once supported gigantic turbines.

As the light of the gray morning streams through the translucent, metal-framed windows, the place bears an eerie likeness to a disaster scene. Dust hangs thick and heavy like smoke. Piles of rubble -- mangled steel, concrete, drywall, piping, dirt -- lie 10 feet deep.

Yesterday morning, more of the building's innards disappeared -- in a demolition job taking out interior brick walls, steel supports, concrete pillars, five levels of offices lining two walls, electrical generators, plumbing fixtures. More than 500 truckloads of debris are going -- everything but the century-old brick building itself and a few vestiges of when the plant supplied electricity to run streetcars and generate steam heat.

"It'll be the ultimate 'before-and-after.' We're building a new building inside an old building, really," David Westerlund, construction director for Baltimore-based Cordish Co., developer of the estimated $30 million Power Plant entertainment complex, said yesterday.

"It will be a shell building, really, but we're retaining its character and the integrity of the old building."

By spring, the building will house the nation's first ESPN Grill, a restaurant and sports playground featuring more than 200 video screens; interactive games allowing customers to kick footballs, hit baseballs and slap hockey pucks. ESPN studio sets will double as attractions and venues for regular live broadcasts.

But first, a new interior, designed by Baltimore's Design Collective Inc., must be created.

Pilings will be sunk. Steel and concrete pillars will be built to support four new floors. Electrical and plumbing systems for the Power Plant complex will be replaced -- all by December, to meet the Power Plant's tight development schedule.

In the future grill, the northernmost of the plant's three buildings (the one closest to Pratt Street), for example, exposed brick, metal roof trusses and a giant rolling crane just beneath the roof will be retained.

Chris Santoro, who steered the track hoe over piles of rubble and pulled levers to manipulate the hydraulic hammer yesterday, stared at the chaos before him and imagined coming back to watch a Ravens game on the grill's television.

"This job's special, historic, you know?" said Santoro, 26, of Essex, who works for the Berg Group, a subcontractor for the Power Plant's general contractor, Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse Inc. "How often do you get to work on a 100-year-old building that's going to be such a big attraction?"

More than 1,000 construction workers have toiled to remake the northern building and the neighboring center building, where a Barnes & Noble book and music emporium is to open in the spring.

ESPN Grill marks the latest of the tenants to sign leases at the Power Plant, which had remained shuttered for seven years after Six Flags Corp. moved out the last of its failed Victorian fun house.

Cordish Co. began redevelopment this year under a 75-year lease with the city, and the plant reopened with a splash in July with the opening of Hard Rock Cafe. Other tenants are expected to include nightclubs and movie theaters.

Only preliminary work is complete on the center building, where much of the facade will be opened to create a covered outdoor atrium at the edge of the extended harbor-front promenade.

The ESPN Grill, created by Walt Disney Co. and ESPN, an indirect Disney subsidiary, will occupy the first two of the four new levels in the northern building and include a mezzanine level at its perimeter.

The grill will occupy nearly 40,000 square feet, or roughly the space of a football field. A "skybox" will afford the best view of a 16-foot screen carrying sports broadcasts, and every seat in the house will include customized sound controls to allow viewers to tune in to other programming on other monitors.

Though design details remain preliminary, Disney and ESPN officials said ESPN Grill would accommodate at least 600 people, employ at least 200 and include a sports memorabilia shop. The network, which reaches more than 70 million homes, is banking on the chain to boost the ESPN name.

Art Levitt, president of Disney Regional Entertainment, said the Power Plant proved the ideal location to launch the chain, which Disney and ESPN plan to expand into Chicago in 1999, then into other major U.S. cities.

"The Inner Harbor's thriving, the building's historic, you got the Orioles and the new stadium for the Ravens," Levitt said. "It's a perfect location for us to launch the ESPN Grill."

Pub Date: 10/20/97

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