Nightlife with a bang

Tourism: City hopes Power Plant Live can boost interest in Market Place plaza.

March 09, 2001|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

How's this for subtle advertising?

A 7-foot-tall neon statue of a muscle-bound utility worker wearing a hard hat rises above Market Place plaza near the Inner Harbor. He hurls thunderbolts into a huge anvil, triggering an amplified rumble and a spasm of flashes from thunderbolt-shaped lights atop dozens of poles.

The Cordish Co. plans to show off its trademark flashy style May 5, when it opens its $30 million Power Plant Live entertainment complex in a failed mall at 34 Market Place, across from Port Discovery children's museum.

The plaza will feature an outdoor bar and cafe area flanked by 13 nightclubs and restaurants. Bands will play to people eating outside, and a lighted 110-foot-tall helium balloon with a gondola will offer rides into the night sky.

City officials welcome the transformation of the mall into a 300,000-square-foot wonderland of discos, bars, restaurants, concert halls and a comedy club because they hope it will bring life to a mostly dead plaza.

They expect increased foot traffic in Market Place to help the adjacent Port Discovery children's museum, which saw its attendance drop last year.

But some observers grumble that they've seen enough of Cordish Co.'s taste. The company's style of signage is best illustrated by the huge neon Hard Rock Cafe guitar atop the Power Plant on the Inner Harbor.

"I don't think we're Las Vegas," said 1st District City Councilwoman Lois Garey. "After this, how do we stop a business on The Block from installing a neon girl kicking her leg?"

Laurie Schwartz, the city's deputy mayor for economic development, said the bright lights and outdoor cafes should encourage people to walk beyond the Inner Harbor and help spread the prosperity of the tourism zone.

"I think it will help make this part of downtown fun again," Schwartz said.

The complex will be built out of a row of nearly century-old brick houses that in the 1980s were converted into the Brokerage, a faux-Victorian mall that is now mostly empty.

Opening this spring are more than a dozen clubs and cafes. Among them will be McFadden's Irish Pub & Saloon, a replica of the McFadden's that has been a showcase for Irish music and food in midtown Manhattan for more than 20 years, said Reed Cordish, vice president of development for Cordish Co.

At the center of the complex will be a 2,000-seat music hall where rock bands and others will perform.

"Baltimore has lacked a premier entertainment district until now," Cordish said. "The city has asked us to deliver that, and we think we are creating one of the most lively and exciting places in the region."

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