Local businessman floats idea for balloon ride in Baltimore

Lease sought for plaza near Port Discovery for $1 million project

`Draw more visitors' north

January 13, 2000|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

At night, it would hover above downtown Baltimore's skyline as bright as the moon. By day, it would offer dizzying views of the Inner Harbor and Chesapeake Bay.

A Pikesville businessman is proposing to build a balloon ride next to the Port Discovery children's museum on President Street that would lift customers 400 feet into the air -- higher than the city's tallest building.

Lee Raskin, a representative of Sky High of Maryland balloon company, hopes to win a lease on the city-owned plaza near the Market Place subway station after a presentation this morning before a city design review panel.

Advocates of the $1 million project say the 110-foot-tall helium balloon with its hoop-shaped gondola would draw more visitors north from the Inner Harbor to the often-silent plaza between Port Discovery and the Cordish Co. entertainment complex being built at 34 Market Place.

Skeptics worry it might not be tastefully done -- perhaps looking like a carnival ride, bobbing up and down like a huge light bulb at night, with lights blazing and ads plastered on its sides.

"I think this kind of thing should be in an amusement park, and not in the city's business district, where we should have more of a conservative atmosphere," said Roberto Marsili, president of the Little Italy Community Organization.

The proposal for the plaza beside Market Place is in its early phases. The company needs financing for the project, a lease from the city and approval from the city's Design Advisory Panel and the state, according to company and city officials.

"In concept, we like the idea, because it could increase the visibility of the Market Place area and would perhaps attract more people north from the Inner Harbor and Pratt Street into the city," said Andrew Frank, executive vice president of Baltimore Development Corp., the city's development agency.

"But there are a lot of design issues, legal issues, business issues that need to be worked out. And if any of them don't work out, it won't fly," said Frank.

`Visual focal point'

The balloon would be designed by Per Lindstrand, a well-known Swedish balloon adventurer and balloon company owner who unsuccessfully tried to fly around the world in December 1998.

Lindstrand Balloons of Shropshire, England, has built balloon rides for the Fantasy of Flight air museum in Polk City, Fla., and for amusement companies in England, Sweden, Spain and Portugal.

"It would be a very exciting ride," said Raskin, a retired investment manager. "It would allow people to see the entire landscape around Baltimore for as far as the eye could see. It would also provide a visual focal point for the Inner Harbor for people driving down Interstates 83 and 95."

Raskin has been proposing his idea to Baltimore development officials for almost two years, looking at possible sites at the Inner Harbor near the Constellation, on Federal Hill and elsewhere.

A more-than-400-foot-long tether would connect the balloon to its launching pad north of Port Discovery. Up to 30 people would ride in the gondola straight up and down, with each ride about 15 minutes long, Raskin said.

The price of the ride hasn't been worked out, but it would probably be less than $10. Hours of operation might be from noon to midnight, weather permitting. The company hopes thousands of people would jump on board every weekend.

Raskin is talking to Port Discovery about creating a joint admission program, so children attending the museum could fly in the balloon.

Bryn Parchman, director of marketing for Port Discovery, said the balloon could draw more attention to the museum and Cordish Co.'s $5 million-plus nightclub and entertainment complex being built in the Brokerage on Market Place.

"I think it is going to be a terrific addition to the Inner Harbor and downtown Baltimore. What a great way to draw more visitors our way," said Parchman.

`Entertainment district'

Reed Cordish, a vice president of Cordish Co., said a lighted balloon could provide a festive atmosphere for nightclub patrons after they dance in the Power Plant Live complex, which should be finished by summer.

"We are trying to create an entertainment district connecting the Inner Harbor to our Power Plant Live project, and we think the balloon would be a great visual icon to draw people to the plaza," Cordish said.

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