Inner Harbor's record not just successes Baltimore Glimpses

September 15, 1998|By Gilbert Sandler

THE DEVELOPMENT of the Inner Harbor has accelerated and is moving at a feverish pitch. Which makes this a good time to take a breath and consider that not all of the Inner Harbor's enterprises have been successful.

Remember the Nobska? It was heralded as the Inner Harbor's first floating restaurant. The former three-deck, New England excursion boat, which was moored near the Maryland Science Center, opened in April 1976 on a high note. Some 300 luminaries attended, toasting the beginning of a new era. Waiters in tuxedos circled with champagne and fancy foods.

Initially, diners found the atmosphere charming, but, eventually, it closed. Attempts to revive it were short-lived.

The Fishmarket entertainment complex opened in October 1988 and seemed to have everything going for it. No less than Nashville's highly regarded Opryland USA operated the supermarket of nightclubs, restaurants and bars under one roof.

Its location on the eastern end of the harbor at Market Place, though a few blocks from the main attractions, was considered promising and a likely catalyst for development in the area. No such luck. It never caught on and closed in July 1989, less than a year after opening.

The Power Plant, a turn-of-the-century electric generating station, was reborn as an indoor amusement park operated by Six Flags in 1985.

When it was clear that the formula was not working, the management converted it into a disco. That failed, too, and, in 1990, a frustrated and disappointed Baltimore government finally bought out Six Flags' 30-year lease, taking control of the Power Plant.

The Columbus Center at Pier 5 and 6 is among the most visible of the Inner Harbor attractions. A highly visible portion of the center, the Hall of Exploration, closed late last year -- six months after opening. (The rest of the facility remains an active marine biotechnology research facility of the University of Maryland).

Explanations for the hall's failure abound.

The marsh grass landscaping outside failed to translate what was inside, the walk-through cell and rockfish were boring. Whatever the reason, 280,000 people were expected to visit the hall by the end of the first year, but only 70,000 visitors made it.

Some once-popular Inner Harbor restaurants are no longer there, either. Among the missing: Athena (Greek), Pronto (Italian), Jean Claude (French), Tandoor (Indian), though let's note that industry spokesmen say even a five-year stint is a good tenure for such businesses there.

There are lessons to be learned: The history of Inner Harbor development is a cautionary tale, showing that timing can be everything. With the past as our teacher, let's remember that some enterprises launched in the 1990s will not make it into the next century.

Gilbert Sandler writes from Baltimore.

Pub Date: 9/15/98

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