Mayor backs Gump eatery Aquarium's concerns have been addressed, Schmoke contends

Officials still protest

'Restaurant is going to be built,' developer of Power Plant says

July 17, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke waded into the battle over plans for an Inner Harbor barge restaurant yesterday, calling National Aquarium officials "unreasonable" for opposing Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

The mayor's comments were the latest in a swelling argument among the city's top civic and business leaders over whether the 8,000-square-foot barge restaurant should be permitted between Piers 3 and 4 of Baltimore's showcase harbor.

Aquarium leaders oppose the proposal, saying it would set a dangerous precedent for future harbor development. The site would block pedestrian views of the aquarium while taking up space needed to build a footbridge critical to visitors, aquarium leaders said.

Prefacing his comments by saying he doesn't want to "kill the goose that laid the golden egg," Schmoke said he believes the aquarium -- viewed as the catalyst for the city's famed Inner Harbor's resurgence 18 years ago -- could co-exist with the restaurant.

"If Bubba Gump Shrimp wants to move ahead with the barge, I support it," Schmoke said at his weekly news conference. "The [aquarium] concerns are certainly legitimate ones, and we felt like we addressed them" before approving the restaurant.

The restaurant, which would resemble a Louisiana shrimp boat from the movie "Forrest Gump," would be the first East Coast branch of the 2-year-old restaurant chain owned by Paramount. The facility would join a $30 million resurgence of the redeveloped Baltimore Power Plant facility sparked by Baltimore's Cordish Co. developers.

Although the city signed leases to permit the restaurant within the past year, the furor over the proposal arose last week when the plans were unveiled publicly before the city's Architectural Review Board.

Hollywood-type establishments have taken a heightened interest in the harbor. Cordish officials welcomed Schmoke's comment yesterday, saying they intend to proceed with their plans.

"What the mayor is doing is just being consistent with the legal agreement," said David Cordish, whose company took over the Power Plant two years ago. "We would not have undertaken the Power Plant without opening it up. It's a big brick building and you need to show some life outside."

The company has the approvals and signed leases to open the restaurant within nine months, Cordish said. The city owns the Inner Harbor property with Cordish as a tenant and Paramount as a subtenant.

Cordish and Paramount intensified the fight with the aquarium yesterday, asking the city to remove the "Old Bridge" that connects the two sections of the aquarium. City leaders negotiated an agreement July 9 between the two sides that the bridge would remain until the aquarium could build a replacement.

But Cordish said the city initially agreed to remove the bridge by April 30 and now wants the bridge removed by Wednesday.

"It is now apparent to us that the aquarium was only interested in preventing us from exercising our respective legal rights and was never interested in reaching a mutually acceptable compromise," Charles F. Jacobs of the Cordish Power Plant Limited Partnership wrote to the city Wednesday. "There will be no settlement and we will vigorously enforce our rights under the agreement."

Aquarium leaders scrambled yesterday to meet with Schmoke to discuss their concerns. Executive Director David Pittenger called the mayor's comments important to the issue, but disagreed with Schmoke's assessment. "I feel we have been reasonable," Pittenger said. "It's unprecedented for us to take this kind of position but it's because of what's happening in the waterway."

Cordish said it hasn't considered other sites because it owns the right to develop in front of the Power Plant.

"People said, 'David, you'll never get the Hard Rock, you'll never get Disney, you'll never get Barnes & Noble,' " Cordish said of his plans. "This restaurant is going to be built."

Pub Date: 7/17/98

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