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An alluring use for Power Plant


No disrespect to any of the people who put together proposals for the Power Plant, Baltimore's premier white elephant, but I hope the Baltimore Development Corp. rejects all the ideas and asks for more.

So far, the only proposal that sounds promising is the one for a catering hall. Wedding and bar mitzvah receptions on Pier 4 at the Inner Harbor could be alluring and marketable. The problem, however, is that it would not make the Power Plant a "public facility," in the way a mall, museum or entertainment center would.

The rest of the ideas, while more public-oriented, are less than exciting.

Really. A sports museum featuring highlights from "Thirty Years of ABC-TV's Wide World of Sports"? I'll wait for the video.

A family-oriented entertainment center called "American Celebration on Parade"? It's been done! Anyone remember the Six Flags occupation of the Power Plant?

An educational and entertainment complex called "E=MC"? Anyone ever heard of the Maryland Science Center?

An ethnic heritage center? Nice idea, but probably the wrong location. Try Ellis Island.

A proposal from progressive-thinking Struever Bros., Eccles and Rouse, and LRS Associates for a "multifaceted arts and entertainment center" features, among other things, a "big screen illusionary theater," which sounds like Imax. The proposal also calls for "ride simulation" and "simulated games," which sound like amusements offered under Six Flags. The only part of this proposal that sounds interesting -- because it would fit nicely into my idea for the place -- is a National Craft Arts Center.

I bet you're wondering what my bright idea is for the vacant Power Plant.

And after reading my put-downs of all other concepts, you're saying to yourself: This better be good.

Well, here goes: I propose that the Power Plant be turned into a bustling flea market/antiques emporium/auction house featuring vintage-clothing and crafts boutiques, art galleries, a second-hand book store, a funky second-hand jewelry shop, eclectic consignment shops and a baseball card/autograph exchange. I propose that it be called the White Elephant.

Imagine a bazaar. Imagine a big, noisy, open hall full of flea market tables -- rented by the day, or the week -- surrounded by stalls occupied by Baltimore's best second-hand merchants. Retro, Oh, Susanna! -- they would love a shot at the location. We could even give Goodwill Industries space for a "fashion outlet."

A major auction house could stage a midday and early-evening auction, which would be great fun for both participants and spectators. Several antiques dealers, working individually or in cooperatives, could put some of their best items on sale. Local and regional artists and craft people could place their work in galleries. There would be a daily White Elephant sale in the main hall.

Before I go on, I should tell you this isn't entirely my idea. My auntie, Vida Roberts, has been talking it up for a long time, but savvy -- and sassy -- as she is, she is in no position to make it happen. No Green Paper. No White Elephant.

We need money. That's why I proffered the concept more than a year ago, when the Powers That Be were scrounging for suggestions for the Power Plant. They didn't pick up on this concept because, I guess, they found it too simplistic, too funky, not flashy enough.

Or maybe they thought I was kidding.

If the Baltimore Development Corp. wants an attraction, a sparkling lure for tourists, conventioneers and convention widows, and suburbanites -- even whole families of them -- then they ought to consider the White Elephant concept. What a way to create more pedestrian traffic through Pier 4! Such an emporium, bustling with merchants, would tap into universal consumer desires -- the search for something unique at a bargain price. Yard sales and flea markets are hot. The most conspicuous of American consumers love a shot at good second-hand merchandise. Baseball cards are hot. Nostalgia is hot.

No class, you say? That's precisely the point. The White Elephant would appeal to people from all economic groups. Anyone could go there with the hope of striking a good deal, and that would hold well beyond recessionary times.

"You never know" is what seasoned bargain-hunters say about the flea market scene. You never know what you might find, which would give the White Elephant an edge on the competition at the Inner Harbor. There will be something different offered for sale daily, ensuring repeat customers. You won't be able to leave the Inner Harbor without checking out the goods at the White Elephant.

I wish someone would develop this idea. Aunt Vida and I are both available for consultations.

The spelling of C. William Struever has been corrected for the archive database. See microfilm for original story.
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