Phillips renews lease at Inner Harbor site

Anchor: Owners of Harborplace restaurant sign a deal with Rouse Co. for 20 years and celebrate renewal with renovations.


March 14, 2000|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

Phillips restaurant at Harborplace is getting its first makeover since opening at the Inner Harbor two decades ago, with more than half the estimated $5 million renovation expected to be done by mid-April.

The popular, family-run restaurant, known for crab cakes and tiffany lamps, recently signed a new, 20-year lease with the Rouse Co., its landlord.

Phillips has been the most successful original tenant at Harborplace and a key anchor for the downtown, waterfront attraction.

"It's been 20 years -- it's time," said Peter Macnab, director of facilities for Phillips Seafood Restaurants. "It needs a fresh face. That's our goal."

The interior of the 600-seat restaurant will be modeled after a typical Eastern Shore, wood frame house, with several tiers of seating resembling a parlor, a front porch and a garden, Macnab said.

"This is reflective of [Phillips'] roots on the Shore," he said. The Phillips family started the business with a single location in Ocean City in 1956, and now runs two more in Ocean City and others in White Marsh, Annapolis, Washington and Tysons Corner, Va., as well as the Phillips Foods Inc. retail division.

Phillips Harborplace is one of the biggest-grossing seafood restaurants in the country, Macnab said.

Restaurant designers hope to incorporate some of the touches that made Phillips unique when it opened in the Light Street Pavilion in June 1980 -- stained glass windows, carousel horses, tiffany lamps and old Singer sewing machine table bases.

The first phase is under way, with workers demolishing part of the exterior glass wall to build a greenhouse seating area similar to those at other Harborplace restaurants. It will replace a seating area under an awning with vinyl curtains. Just beyond the greenhouse will be a seasonal cafe area.

While it won't add seating, the work should give the restaurant a more spacious appearance, Macnab said.

Renovations will also include a second bar, new tile flooring, an updated kitchen and a second entrance on the Light Street side to give the restaurant more visibility from Conway Street.

The greenhouse should be completed by mid-April. Work on the interior decor and the kitchen won't start until next winter.

Phillips decision to stay and renovate is welcome news to other Harborplace merchants.

Kinyana Leach, an employee at Candico, said she has gotten used to dozens of visitors a day stopping at the candy shop on the first floor of the Light Street Pavilion to ask directions to Phillips.

"We're thrilled about Phillips -- you could say it's overdue," said Don Bromer, part owner of the Maryland Bay Co., the gift shop which expects to renew its lease in the Light Street Pavilion.

"They're certainly a major draw and have been for years," he said. "But the restaurant really was beginning to look dated. We were holding our breath waiting to see if they would renew."

Michael A. Gaines, a Rouse Co. vice president and manager of Harborplace and the Gallery, said the landlord has been happy with occupancy of the two retail centers since completing major renovations in 1998. The company does not disclose occupancy rates for individual properties.

Rouse renovated the first floor of the Light Street Pavilion in 1997, then gutted the second-floor shops, which reopened in 1998 as the Light Street Shops with a new look and new merchants.

Over the past few years a number of restaurants have moved to Harborplace, including Planet Hollywood and the Cheesecake Factory, while others have expanded or renovated.

The developer is now working to fill several vacancies in the Gallery, across Pratt Street from Harborplace. Retailers that have moved out include 9 & Co. shoes, a division of Nine West Group Inc. that was eliminated, and Eat At Joe's restaurant, also as part of a company-wide closing. Rouse is talking with potential replacements, Gaines said.

Additionally, two new retailers in the Gallery will include Forever 21, a women's apparel shop new to the Baltimore market, to open in early spring on the second level, and Aeveda, a personal care products division of the Estee Lauder Cos. Inc. Aeveda will open in a couple of months on the first level.

Gaines said he expects a few new offerings as well in the Gallery and Harborplace food courts.

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