City hears new tune at the water's edge

Pier Six pavilion faces renovation or relocation

July 29, 2005|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,SUN STAFF

Pier Six Concert Pavilion, Baltimore's summertime concert destination for 24 years, is either folding its pointy white tent and moving from its harbor perch or staying put for a full-scale overhaul.

Baltimore development and arts officials announced yesterday that they are considering two widely differing ideas from teams that responded to their call for bids to give the aging facility a facelift or to rethink the venue altogether.

One team, a partnership of prolific Baltimore developer David S. Cordish and Bill Muehlhauser, who owns the various Rams Head Tavern halls, wants to refurbish Pier Six from the inside out into a more impressive event site.

The other team wants to move the concert facility from downtown to the nascent Harbor Point and then build a mixed-use residential and retail development where Pier Six now stands.

The developers of Harbor East, H&S Properties Development Corp. and Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, joined by Doracon Contracting's Ronald H. Lipscomb, are behind the latter plan.

"They are both very different and very interesting proposals," said Andrew Frank, vice president of the Baltimore Development Corp., the agency that along with Baltimore's Office of Promotion & the Arts will recommend an option to Mayor Martin O'Malley.

"And both developers have a proven track record of being able to deliver."

Big names, big money

By redoing Pier Six - one way or the other - the city is hoping to replace an under-performing facility with a full-blown harbor attraction, an entertainment space that will lure big-name acts and their big-spending audiences.

Built in 1991 to replace a 10-year-old smaller pavilion, the seasonal venue is easily spotted from the harbor with its nylon, tent-like roof that stretches futuristically over a concrete base.

Earlier this year, Frank was hoping to choose a new manager by September and, ideally, to have any changes in place by next summer's season. That timeframe now looks ambitious, he said yesterday.

The city-owned Pier Six is managed by a consortium that includes Clear Channel Communications and Cordish, who won the contract in 1998. The Cordish/Clear Channel contract expires in October.

Spending millions

Cordish development director Taylor Gray said his team would spend millions to renovate Pier Six - with features ranging from more parking and thousands more seats to a cutting-edge light and sound system.

The aim is to attract the big national acts that now pass by Pier Six, with its 3,341 seats under cover and room for 1,000 more people on the lawn.

The Cordish renovation would seat about 6,000.

Additionally, the team would groom the surrounding grounds by adding landscaping and picnic areas, turning what is now a fenced-off space into a desirable area for community gatherings - even when shows aren't scheduled.

"Pier Six needs to become a place where it's more than just music," Muehlhauser said. "I think it needs a variety of cultural events. It's way under-utilized.

"I envision everything from car shows to antique shows - why not?"

Muehlhauser also said he looked forward to broadening Pier Six's "hot dog and hamburger" menu to incorporate sophisticated finger foods and microbrews, not unlike Virginia's Wolftrap, where concert-goers can nibble on gourmet picnics while listening to music outdoors.

He'd also like to build in a beer garden.

No one from H&S, Struever Bros. or Doracon returned calls for comment yesterday. But that team's proposal calls for a big change - for both the concert pavilion and the Inner Harbor.

By moving Pier Six to Harbor Point, where the new concert facility would likely retain a harbor view, the team would be able to build housing and retail on Pier Six's coveted waterfront site.

A 2003 Inner Harbor study suggested moving Pier Six to a park setting to open up the waterfront location, Frank said.

"There needs to be an overwhelming and compelling reason to move the facility, and it would have to be to a place with an equal or greater setting," Frank said. "There aren't too many places to achieve that."

The $500 million Harbor Point development, on the site of the former Allied Signal chromium plant between the Inner Harbor and Fells Point, is slated to include a hotel and several office buildings.

Public space

Downtown Partnership spokesman Mike Evitts said there's no doubt the Pier Six site could be offering Baltimore more, but only if it remains some sort of a public space.

"I want to see something that keeps that an asset for everybody, not just two, three or four people that live in a condo there," Evitts said. "We need to take a deep breath and think about how we can balance this as a place where people can congregate. We don't want to privatize all of the water."

Cordish's Gray said Pier Six's home at the hub of the Inner Harbor is more suitable for a concert facility than Harbor Point, parts of which abut the residential streets of Fells Point.

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