Cordish ponders Columbus hall uses Company could put tenant in closed hall

January 04, 1998|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

The Columbus Center's recently shuttered Hall of Exploration could be redeveloped in tandem with the Pier 4 Power Plant next door, if its operators allow the Cordish Co. to take control of the exhibition space.

With major prospective tenants lined up for the $30 million entertainment center that it is creating inside the Power Plant, the Cordish Co. has begun to think about ways to add life to the Hall of Exploration, which closed Dec. 15 after lower-than-expected attendance.

"We have some ideas on how to make the space income-producing," said Joseph Weinberg, a vice president of Cordish Co., a Baltimore-based developer.

"We haven't gotten into specifics with the city on tenants. We just have some overall thoughts about it. It's up to the city to sort out its goals and objectives for the space."

When it opened in May under the undulating white canopy on the west side of the Columbus Center, the 46,000-square-foot Hall of Exploration was billed as the "public face" of the $147 million marine biotechnology center. Created at a cost of $10 million, the hall was filled with exhibits intended to help visitors understand the research activity under way in the rest of the building on Piers 5 and 6.

In its first seven months of operation, the hall drew 70,000 visitors -- a quarter of the 280,000 projected. The shortfall in attendance caused a cash crunch, and the Columbus Center has defaulted twice on its bank loans.

Last month, the Columbus Center's board was replaced by a three-member panel that consists of M. J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development agency; James T. Brady, the Maryland secretary of business and economic development; and Rita R. Colwell, head of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute.

They said they would spend 30 days evaluating the center and then decide what to do with the multilevel Hall of Exploration.

The rest of the building, which houses laboratories occupied by the University of Maryland and others, is open for business.

Not enough space

Cordish officials have said on numerous occasions that they have been so successful in attracting tenants to the Power Plant that they don't have enough space for all the candidates that would like to come to Baltimore. Power Plant's future tenants include Hard Rock Cafe, a branch of the Barnes & Noble books and music store, and ESPN Zone, a sports-theme restaurant and entertainment complex.

Cordish Co. sought to develop the state-owned land at the northwest corner of Market Place and Pratt Street, across from ++ the Power Plant, but it wasn't able to reach an agreement with Baltimore City Community College, which controls the land.

Good candidates

Weinberg declined to say exactly what Cordish might put in the Hall of Exploration to generate revenue for the Columbus Center. But others familiar with the situation say some retailers or restaurants that can't fit in the Power Plant might be good candidates for the Hall of Exploration, because it is nearby and has a main entrance at wharf level.

One possible tenant might be a branch of Rainforest Cafe, a restaurant with a rain-forest theme that might work under the Columbus Center's white canopy.

Brodie said last week that he was aware of Cordish Co.'s interest because the developer wrote to the Columbus Center's previous management before the Hall of Exploration closed.

He said Cordish is one of several parties that have ideas for the hall. Another is the Baltimore Zoo, which has been negotiating with the city to open an exhibit on insects there.

Input encouraged

Brodie said he encourages those who contact him about the Hall of Exploration to put their ideas on paper so he, Brady and Colwell can consider them as part of their evaluation of the

Columbus Center.

He noted that the panel's priorities for the hall are to promote research and education, as well as putting the center on a stronger financial footing. There is no deadline for ideas, he said, but "the sooner the better."

In the meantime, he said, the original exhibits have remained in place in case the hall can be reopened or the exhibits can be reused.

Pub Date: 1/04/98

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