Cordish plans 2,000-seat arena in city

Live music venue set in Power Plant Live

Alternative to bars, clubs, halls is to open in spring

October 15, 2002|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

Cordish Co. said yesterday that it will build and operate an arena in Power Plant Live, bringing national and regional musical acts to the downtown entertainment district and adding the last major anchor to the project.

Settled among the district's restaurants and bars, the arena will hold about 2,000 people on two levels, which could mean significantly more visitors to Power Plant Live than the 2 million the company estimates visited last year. It could also continue to draw conventioneers, locals and business people north from the Inner Harbor.

The arena, which is expected to cost about $5 million to build, will be roughly double the size of the district's outdoor plaza, which all the outlets face. Cordish expects it to open in the spring.

With few other locations of its size in the area, the proposed arena will attract acts that cannot fill or do not want to play the 14,000-seat First Mariner Arena, formerly Baltimore Arena, said Reed Cordish, a vice president at the company.

It will also offer an alternative to small local bars and nightclubs and the outdoor Pier 6 Concert Pavilion, which is more than twice the size of the planned venue and is closed in the winter.

Cordish Co. has been seeking to bring a live music venue to Power Plant Live since it opened about a year ago. The company had negotiated a deal with the neighboring Port Discovery children's museum to use its atrium, but the deal fell apart when the museum decided to move and lease its space for a public high school for at least a year.

Reed Cordish said the company plans to use a 21,000- square-foot site among its restaurants and the Improv comedy club instead, although the company has not given up on expanding Power Plant Live into museum space if the school leaves.

The arena will join an entertainment lineup that includes Have a Nice Day Cafe, Howl at the Moon and Cafe Asia. A handful of small spots remain to be filled, likely by more restaurants, bars and lounges.

"We've found in an entertainment project, an indoor music venue is the perfect anchor," Cordish said. "It brings people downtown during the week, generates business for the restaurants and clubs there. National and regional acts will bring more people downtown for entertainment. Baltimore generally has a void of this type of venue."

Cordish has gained experience operating venues such as Pier 6 and an arena in Houston similar to the one planned for Power Plant Live. Cordish plans another live music venue in Hollywood, Fla. All will have in-house booking agents with industry know-how and contacts in the music industry.

Cordish said the new venue will resemble Nightclub 9:30 in Washington and the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York.

"When you go on the road on a tour of the East Coast, you want to hit as many places as possible. But when national acts tour this area, they go to New York and Philadelphia and then skip this area and go to D.C.," Cordish said. "We could hire a promotional company to represent us, or we could hire an internal person with industry knowledge to get them here. And that's what we're doing."

Operators and promoters of smaller venues said doing the booking in-house can be difficult at first, but that once a venue is established and gains a reputation in the industry, the acts will come.

Yalan Papillons, the in-house talent buyer for the 600-800 seat Black Cat in Washington, said the club was aided by its well-known owners, most notably alternative rock musician David Grohl, of the bands Nirvana and the Foo Fighters. Still, she said, competition was stiff at first with the more-established Nightclub 9:30, which employs a professional booking company.

"We try and work together now," Papillons said. "We talk to them, and if they can't handle a show, or it's too small for them, they send it to us. And, also, the promoters got to know us."

Steve Schalk, owner and manager of Nobody in Particular, a booking agency for arenas in the Denver area and a promoter of mostly smaller musical acts, said establishing a venue can take time.

"You can slowly carve out your niche, depending on your competition, how easy you are to deal with and how good your venue is," he said. "It's just like any other business."

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