Giant movie theater coming 18-screen megaplex to be an anchor in Inner Harbor East

7th-floor glassed-in lobby


September 10, 1998|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

Hoping to draw upscale shops and restaurants and create a downtown entertainment destination, developers of Inner Harbor East have secured their first major retail anchor: an 18-screen movie megaplex to sit seven stories above the harbor.

Crown Theatres, a limited partnership of Henry Crown and Co., plans to operate a 90,000-square-foot theater with 4,500 stadium-style seats and digital sound, said Michael S. Beatty, vice president of H&S Properties Development Corp., developer of the 20-acre retail, office and residential project between the Inner Harbor and Fells Point.

The Crown Imperial theater will occupy the entire seventh floor of a retail and parking tower bounded by President, Fleet, Exeter and Aliceanna streets, with a glass-enclosed lobby overlooking the waterfront, he said.

Retail shops and restaurants are planned for the first and second floors, with a 1,400-space parking garage sandwiched between on four levels.

The theater is expected to draw at least 1 million people a year and help the Inner Harbor East project fill a niche as a destination where city dwellers and suburbanites alike can shop, dine and play, Beatty said.

"You don't have a place for people who live in the city or in the regional area to come downtown multiple times as their place for a dining and entertainment and shopping experience," Beatty said, adding that the Power Plant and Harborplace tend to draw more tourists than local residents on a regular basis.

As a key anchor of about 450,000 square feet of retail space planned for Inner Harbor East, the theater should help funnel business to shops, restaurants and attractions spread among several high-rise buildings and lining the streets. Retailers will benefit from the proximity to Little Italy and the Inner Harbor and vice versa, Beatty said.

"People will be coming here for an entertainment experience, and most of these patrons will want to do more than go to the theaters," Beatty said. "It will bring that many more people downtown."

Megaplexes are a new breed of movie theater with 14 or more screens. Because of their ability to draw a broad range of consumers, they have become desirable as anchors in urban entertainment centers.

H&S is actively leasing and negotiating with potential tenants for the tower, an estimated $76 million project, that could rise as tall as 180 feet in one section and might include a residential component atop the movie theater, Beatty said.

Other anchors will likely include stores in the 20,000 to 30,000-square-foot range. Developers envision shops selling apparel and accessories along Lancaster Street's waterfront with others specializing in home furnishings along Aliceanna Street.

The developer had previously signed a lease for a 25,000-square-foot Fresh Fields Whole Foods Market on Exeter Street facing the theaters.

The final tenant mix should lure visitors from at least a 30-mile radius and prompt them to spend twice as much time as they would on an average mall trip, said Steven K. Graul, president of Innovative Concept Associates Inc. of Reston, Va., the project's leasing agent.

"On the retail side, we want to create a set of opportunities here that are distinct and unique in the market," Graul said.

Crown Theaters will be the first large theater complex built in the downtown area since 1985, when United Artists opened the nine-screen Harbor Park theater at Market Place and Lombard Street. In 1987, the theater beefed up security in the wake of two shootings, one in which a woman was wounded and another in which a man wounded himself.

But despite those incidents, the theater has being doing well for the past three years, said Kurt Hall, president and chief executive officer of United Artists Corp. Hall refused to release revenue figures.

When Crown opens, "our first response is going to be to compete for film," said Hall, who said movie studios allocate pictures between competing theaters.

"If we have the picture and they don't, people will come to our theaters. We're certainly not going to just go out of business. We may go back and retrofit our theaters" to include the popular stadium seating.

But Milton Daly, chief operating officer of Crown Theatres, says the Norwalk, Conn., company has targeted downtown Baltimore because it lacks state-of-the-art theaters.

"The demographics dictate that the Inner Harbor is totally under-screened," said Daly, who hopes to open Inner Harbor East by the end of next year.

"Our studies have shown that the entire area could use a minimum of 18 screens. We are just servicing the market."

Initial plans call for ticket booths in a first-floor lobby, which will be accessible from the tower's parking garage.

Elevators and escalators will carry ticketed patrons through a glass atrium to a lobby and concessions on the seventh floor and into theaters with high-backed, deluxe seats with cup holders.

Pub Date: 9/10/98

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