Chain vetoes harbor restaurant

Sam & Harry's ends talks to open outlet in former Planet Hollywood site

October 26, 2002|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

A Virginia steakhouse company has abandoned efforts to take over the large, highly visible dining room left behind by Planet Hollywood in Harborplace, the company said yesterday.

Sam & Harry's, a small, upscale restaurant chain, said in May that it was negotiating for the space that is located at the west end of Pratt Street Pavilion and has been empty since last year. Planet Hollywood closed after 39 months there. The pavilion is one of three shopping and tourist destinations on the water run by the Rouse Co.

Michael Sternberg, Sam & Harry's co-founder and chief executive, confirmed that a more-casual restaurant, Harry's, would not move into the two-story, 13,000-square-foot spot, but he did not close the door on Baltimore.

He declined to say what derailed the project. Rouse officials would not comment.

Several chain restaurants in the Inner Harbor have been popular among tourists, conventioneers and downtown workers.

A cluster of them has made the pavilions successful, despite the public's lack of interest in more shopping, said some retail observers. None had firsthand knowledge of why the Sam & Harry's deal fell apart.

Tom Maddux, president of NAI KLNB Inc. and a retail specialist, said several other steakhouses operate downtown, including Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, Morton's and Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar.

"There are very few other places downtown for restaurants to go," he said. "But steakhouses are expensive, they're big, they need volume. Most urban markets have several, but how many can Baltimore support? I'm sure they'll find something, though."

David Fick, a managing director and retail analyst at Legg Mason Wood Walker Inc., agreed that a restaurant is a good fit for festival marketplaces, as Rouse-created pavilions are called.

He said such pavilions are struggling in downtowns elsewhere. Many have shifted away from traditional retail to a mostly restaurant format because, with few exceptions, downtown areas don't have a large core of residents who shop there. The pavilions have been supported by tourists.

At some point, Fick said, the pavilion owners should approach their host cities for aid, because they have become mostly public amenities.

"Harborplace is struggling to maintain the level of energy and excitement that it's had in its now 20-year history," he said. "Restaurants are the one concept that has shined there. Financially, the fact that they haven't worked out means they don't belong in the private marketplace, but it doesn't mean they shouldn't have been built."

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