A local Hollywood premiere Debut: Planet Hollywood will open in Harborplace tomorrow with memorabilia showcasing Maryland's ties to the entertainment industry


June 05, 1998|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

When Planet Hollywood opens tomorrow, decked out with costumes and props that link Maryland to the silver screen, the goal is to draw a share of the tourist crowd while giving area movie buffs enough local color to call the place their own.

"We cater to tourists and visitors," said Kevin Bonner, general manager. "But we really want it to be a local Baltimore shrine. Here it is on the walls."

The shrine starts beneath the pink and green zebra-striped awnings, just beyond the trademark plastic palm trees that flank the entrance.

Here at the Baltimore restaurant, one of more than 70 worldwide, are: a stunt pistol and switchblade from Bruce Willis' "Die Hard With a Vengeance"; a letter from the movie "Sleepless in Seattle"; and the alien baby from "Species II." Parts of each were filmed in or near Baltimore. Throughout the restaurant, there are other movie items with local connections.

Orlando-based Planet Hollywood International Inc. is one of the pioneers of the roughly 10-year-old themed restaurant, or "eatertainment," business estimated to be a $2.5 billion-a-year industry. Their early success has dimmed with increasing competition.

Baltimore officials are hoping success will shine on the new location in Harborplace, sparking more excitement in the Inner Harbor, which attracts as many as 50,000 visitors on a typical, summer weekend day.

Planet Hollywood follows on the heels of Hard Rock Cafe, which opened in the Power Plant in July, and precedes the debut of the ESPN Zone in the Power Plant on July 12.

"In most major cities, where you see a Hard Rock, you usually see Planet Hollywood nearby," said Carroll R. Armstrong, president of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. "To see that trend continuing here says that they see Baltimore in the same light as they do other major cities. That means they view us with the same potential."

Planet Hollywood, which began with the opening of the first location in New York in October 1991, features Hollywood memorabilia, artifacts and movie clips with food and a souvenir shop. It was founded by actors Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Demi Moore and Bruce Willis.

Managers expect 1,500 to 2,000 people to pass through the Baltimore restaurant each weekend day. It will be one of the busier Planet Hollywoods, said Amado Hernandez, the opening coordinator, who has launched Planet Hollywoods around the world.

Employees have been training for weeks and practicing their skills serving food and selling merchandise for the past several days. Part of that training includes briefings on the memorabilia and their local significance.

Armstrong said he is impressed with the background work that chains such as Planet Hollywood have done to fit into the region. "These brand names are blending into the mosaic," he said. "They've researched the area."

Inside Planet Hollywood, the research is evident in the replica of traditional Maryland crabs that crawl below one of the big screens and the pink flamingos that populate the diorama -- a three-dimensional collage with busts of the owners of the theme restaurant and other stars -- in a tribute to local moviemaker John Waters who created "Pink Flamingos."

Assistance on the fine points of Baltimore and Maryland's local connections to the movie industry came from Michael B. Styer, director of the Maryland Film Office with the Department of Business and Economic Development.

Styer made Planet Hollywood executives aware of native filmmakers Waters and Barry Levinson. Much of the memorabilia reflects their roles in small signs on the walls. There also is a tribute to Baltimorean Josh Charles, who acted in "Dead Poets Society." Documents from the movie's Welton Academy appear on the wall.

Styer also provided Planet Hollywood with a list of more than 50 films shot in Maryland during the past 20 years, noting those with a Baltimore connection.

"I'm happy to hear that this Planet Hollywood will have representations of the film industry in Maryland," he said. "Maryland is becoming a much bigger player in the film industry. Planet Hollywood coming here just helps to emphasize that."

Last year, six feature films and 23 episodes of TV's "Homicide" were shot in Maryland, Styer said. Films had an economic impact in the state of $77 million in fiscal 1998, up from $62 million in fiscal 1997 and $42 million in fiscal 1996, he said.

The Baltimore Planet Hollywood was announced as part of a $110 million push to expand in 17 cities and capitalize on the public's fascination with themed restaurants -- a fascination some experts say is fading.

Despite Planet Hollywood's success and longevity, the company's shares dropped more than 34 percent this year after it announced fourth-quarter earnings would fall short of expectations. Competition from other themed restaurants was blamed.

The company, with revenues projected at $485 million this year, has recently upgraded its food, revamped its merchandise and attracted stars to appear in the restaurants more often, according to Michael Mueller, a restaurant analyst with NationsBanc Montgomery Securities in San Francisco.

This week the company's shares were trading in the $8 range. The highest close this year was $27.

The company continues to roll out new locations -- Dubai in the United Arab Emirates last month and Montreal next month, according to company officials. But they are slowing the rate of growth and being more selective about locations, Mueller said.

A splashy grand opening with Hollywood stars is planned for Baltimore, perhaps next month.

Pub Date: 6/05/98

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