High-tech center proposed for Power Plant


Westinghouse Electric Corp., American Telephone & Telegraph Co., IBM and James Rouse's Enterprise Development Co. are exploring a plan to convert the vacant Pier 4 Power Plant to "a command center of Maryland's information."

In broad form, their proposal, which has not been accepted by the city, envisions converting the facility to a high-technology communications distribution center or "teleport" that would be able to receive and transmit voice, data and video information via satellite, fiber optics and microwave.

The corporate giants picked up the idea from a state employee who works in the Inner Harbor near the cavernous waterfront complex. She submitted a rough idea, with expressions of interest from Westinghouse and AT&T;, to city officials in October, when a total of six groups submitted proposals for a new use of the city-owned Power Plant.

Since then, Westinghouse has taken the lead on the proposal and has been joined by representatives of IBM, Enterprise and the University of Maryland's business school, said David Gillece, acting head of Center City-Inner Harbor Development Inc., the quasi-public agency that oversees Inner Harbor.development

Mr. Gillece said this week that he has decided not to select a developer for the Power Plant from among the proposals submitted last fall.

He said that he and his staff found, after interviewing the bidders last month, that although they were "an impressive cast of characters," none of the proposals was entirely ready to go. He said that he is encouraging bidders to strengthen their proposals, and that the city plans to issue a request for proposals again, most likely when the economy is stronger.

The original teleport proposal, which suggested that the Pier 4 facility be renamed the Information Power Plant, listed a variety of possible uses for the building, including:

* Teleconferencing and broadcasting facilities, featuring teleconferencing rooms that would enable local businessmen and others to communicate by video screen with others around the world without investing huge sums for equipment.

* An exhibition and display center, featuring space for high-tech trade shows and continuous demonstrations of "the latest and most progressive products" for businesses, educators, investors and others.

* Dining rooms for business and social functions.

* A high-tech arcade with computer simulations of war games, music and science games and other "creativity-encouraging" puzzles.

* The Baltimore Celebration Center, an entertainment complex with "a unique international and information age theme." Proposed features included the Global Village Dance Club, with a two-way, large-screen satellite television linking the Power Plant to dance clubs around the world; the Out of This World Lounge, with a "gravity-less" dance floor, robot bartenders and laser-light and hologram concerts; a "fax-order food grill"; and a foreign picture show and coffeehouse featuring first-run international films.

The Westinghouse subsidiary named in the original proposal is the Commercial Systems Division, part of the Electronic Systems Group based near Linthicum. The same group is a partner of the group that is seeking approval to build Worldbridge Centre, a multi-faceted cultural, trade and investment complex planned by developer Dean Gitter for a 1,000-acre tract in the Middle River section of Baltimore County.

"The design concept is exciting to us and could fit well with our strategies for Worldbridge and other non-defense market objectives," Jack Tymann, general manager of the Commercial Systems Division, wrote in a letter submitted with the original proposal Oct. 15.

Also writing to express interest in the Power Plant proposal was W. J. "Bill" Fortin, manager of the Intelligent Building Systems division of AT&T.;

"The teleport idea . . . is exciting to AT&T;," he wrote. "AT&T;'s

Intelligent Building Systems would add to the high-technology needs of the facility."

Kay Landon, manager of communications for IBM, confirmed that her company was a "consultant" to the Westinghouse group. Martin Millspaugh, head of Enterprise's international development arm and a former president of Charles Center-Inner Harbor Management Inc., the predecessor of Center City-Inner Harbor, declined to comment on the nature of his firm's involvement.

Mr. Millspaugh headed the downtown development agency when the Power Plant was awarded to Six Flags Corp., which opened it in 1985 as an indoor amusement center and sold its rights to the project four years later. Enterprise also has expressed interest in working with the Orioles to redevelop a tract of land just east of the Camden Yards ballpark that will open next year.

Other ideas submitted for the Power Plant included a downtown branch of the Baltimore Museum of Art; a branch of the Hard Rock Cafe or Carlos and Charlie's, nightclub with a Depression-era speakeasy theme; a children's museum; and several versions of a family-oriented entertainment complex. City officials also have been working with the Baltimore Center for Performing Arts on plans to create an off-Broadway theater in the northernmost of the three Power Plant buildings.

Mr. Gillece said his office is still working with the performing arts center to open the theater. He said it is also evaluating the possibility of leasing the facility to groups that want to use it for parties, fund-raisers or other one-night events.

Mr. Gillece added that the timing of the original offering "couldn't have been worse" because it came just as the economy was turning down.

"We consider this delay a temporary one and continue to be bullish on the prospects for creative and viable reuse of the structure," he said. Asked when the city might reoffer the property, he said he had no exact timetable. "My guess is when we come out of the recession," he said.

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