First came the 68-foot-tall neon guitar put up by Hard Rock Cafe.
Then Planet Hollywood proposed artificial palm trees and zebra-striped awnings for its new restaurant at Harborplace.
But there's never been anything quite like the marker planned by another business that will open next spring in downtown Baltimore: A giant, flaming shish kebab that would rise high over the Inner Harbor.
ESPN Grill, a restaurant and sports complex planned for the Pier 4 Power Plant, is seeking approval to install a simulated kebab on the northwest corner of the Power Plant to call attention to its operation.
According to drawings presented this week to Baltimore's Architectural Review Board, the kebab would be made of high-density Styrofoam and designed to look as if it's on fire.
But instead of meat on the skewer, there would be a series of balls -- including a basketball, football, soccer ball and baseball.
ESPN Grill representatives refer to it as a "sports kebab," and they've made it a symbol of their operation, said Joseph Weinberg, vice president of the Cordish Co., the developer that is turning the Power Plant into a $30 million entertainment complex.
Members of the review panel were befuddled by the proposal.
"Why are the balls on fire?" asked George Notter, a Washington-based architect on the panel.
"Aren't the animal rights people going to be upset?" inquired panelist Amy Weinstein. "It'll be a conversation piece, that's for sure."
"I really object to that kebab thing," added architectural historian Phoebe Stanton, a third panel member.
Planned by the Walt Disney Co. and ESPN, an indirect Disney subsidiary, the Inner Harbor project will be the first ESPN Grill in the nation -- the prototype for a chain of sports-themed attractions.
It will occupy nearly 40,000 square feet of space on three levels inside the northernmost of the three Power Plant buildings. Plans call for more than 200 video screens, interactive games, an ESPN studio and a souvenir shop.
The sports kebab is one of several graphic elements that the Grill's owners plan for the exterior, Weinberg explained. Others include a canopy and a large sign near the roof that says ESPN GRILL.
Weinberg declined to release any of the renderings presented to the board Thursday. But many of the same elements, including the sports kebab and the rooftop sign, were depicted in an earlier rendering released in October by ESPN Grill. Sizes and positions of certain elements have changed since that image was unveiled, however, and are still subject to change.
The city owns the historic building and has leased it to Cordish Co. The design panel is paid to review plans for all new projects downtown and to make recommendations to the Baltimore Development Corp., which coordinates revitalization efforts.
The panel members made suggestions about the changes proposed by ESPN Grill and another tenant, a Barnes & Noble book and music emporium. They asked the developer to be sensitive to the old building when making changes.
"I think it's important to the future that what is good and strong about the building be retained," Weinstein said. "It goes to historic buildings and how you do adaptive reuse. Rule No 1 is: You respect the existing building."
The panel members suggested that the sports kebab not be mounted against the building but that it stick out from it, over Pratt Street, at a 45-degree angle. That way, they said, it would be visible to cars and people, but would clearly be separate from the building itself.
Weinberg said the exterior alterations proposed by Barnes and Noble and ESPN Grill are consistent with a master plan for signs approved earlier this year by Baltimore's zoning board. That plan permits up to 25,000 square feet of signs on the exterior.
Weinberg said the latest plans would result in far fewer signs than the zoning board allowed. He said the development team will try to be sensitive to the review board's comments.
Stanton, a local architectural historian, lamented that the new elements have so little to do with the building's industrial past.
"This building has really had it with Disneyitis, hasn't it?" she said.
Pub Date: 12/06/97