City's Planet Hollywood restaurant shuts down after run of 39 months

Baltimore`s `seasonality' was difficult, chain says

Rouse seeks to fill void

September 20, 2001|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's Planet Hollywood, which opened in 1998 to crowds wrapped around the Pratt Street pavilion, has closed quietly 39 months later.

"Baltimore has a seasonality to it that was very difficult for us," Amy Sadowsky, a spokeswoman for Orlando, Fla.-based Planet Hollywood International Inc., said yesterday. "It was very busy in the summer and not busy the rest of the year. It was performing below our expectations, and coupled with the seasonality, it was a lot to overcome."

Planet Hollywood, the themed restaurant chain that features Hollywood memorabilia, artifacts and movie clips, has shrunk from a chain of 80 stores worldwide in 1999 to 50. Many of its restaurants have struggled with declining sales amid complaints of mediocre food and noisy dining rooms - despite backing from such celebrities as Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone.

Some experts have said that the downfall of the chain was opening in secondary cities so that the brand became diluted.

The chain, which emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy 16 months ago, closed its Seattle restaurant Sept 5, the week before the Sept. 13 closing of the Inner Harbor location.

"There may be a few more closings," Sadowsky said. "We're looking at a couple other cities."

She declined to be more specific and also could not provide sales figures for Baltimore.

"We're doing OK.," she said of the chain. "Our strongest restaurants are located in the tourist areas like London, Paris, Orlando, Las Vegas and Washington."

Local tourism officials were not expecting Planet Hollywood to close.

"We were surprised," said Dan M. Lincoln, vice president of tourism and communications with the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. "We certainly knew that Planet Hollywood was having its corporate struggles, but we had heard that this particular unit was performing well."

In fact, in August 1999, when Robert Earl, chief executive officer of Planet Hollywood, announced the voluntary filing of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, he emphatically said that Baltimore's restaurant would stay open. That was the same year the chain launched a makeover of its menu, restaurant design and merchandise.

"It is one of our best cities," Earl said then of the Inner Harbor restaurant, which opened in June 1998.

The restaurant's closing means one less option for the millions of visitors to Baltimore each year, Lincoln said.

"While we're sad to see Planet Hollywood go, was it driving a lot of visitors by itself to Baltimore?" Lincoln asked. "No. It should not be difficult for Rouse to go out and find another major player. That's a key location, right in the middle of the Inner Harbor."

An official of the Rouse Co. said yesterday that the Columbia-based company is talking with local restaurants, national chains and others to fill the roughly 12,000 square feet on two floors of the pavilion. The floors might be leased together or separately, according to Jody L. Clark, a Rouse vice president.

"We see it as a great opportunity for Harborplace," Clark said. "It's a terrific space."

Ninety percent of the calls Rouse has received have been from restaurants, but the property managers have not ruled anything out, she said.

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