Exasperated by a Boston developer's inability to reopen the Baltimore Fishmarket nightclub complex, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday that the city may soon take legal action to gain control of it.
The 1906 landmark, once the city's main commercial fish market, has been shuttered for the last four years.
"We cannot leave it sitting in this limbo that it's in now," Mr. Schmoke said during a breakfast meeting with reporters. If the city gains control, he said, it most likely will seek competitive proposals from groups interested in recycling the building as part of a new wave of development along Market Place.
The mayor's statements came one day after the city unveiled plans for a $12.5 million rejuvenation of Market Place by rebuilding it to resemble a canal, with old-time boats and barges doubling as vendors' kiosks and outdoor cafes.
The canal was proposed as a way to draw people three blocks inland from the Inner Harbor to a proposed children's museum inside the former Brokerage shopping center.
At least one private group has expressed interest in providing some financial backing for the canal plan, Mr. Schmoke said yesterday, declining to identify the group.
"It's not a pipe dream," he said. With private support, "it's going to happen in the very near future."
Market Place is also within a block of several other major developments under construction or on the drawing board, including the $160 million Columbus Center and the $32 million Sports Center USA planned for the Pier 4 Power Plant.
The city sold the Fishmarket to a group headed by the Boston-based McCourt Co. for $900,000 in 1985. After spending close to $25 million on renovations, McCourt reopened the building as a collection of nightclubs, bars and a 1,000-seat concert hall in November 1988. But it closed the complex abruptly in July 1989, after a falling-out with the operator, Opryland USA.
When Mayor Schmoke and Gov. William Donald Schaefer took a walking tour of Market Place last week, they stood outside the Fishmarket for a long time, noting the broken windows and other signs of vandalism.
Yesterday, the mayor described the vacant building as "a big hole" in the city's efforts to rejuvenate the Market Place corridor.
He said that the city has given developer Frank McCourt "a lot of time" to make good on promises to reopen the building.
Merrill Diamond, a spokesman for the McCourt Co., said he was surprised to learn of the mayor's remarks. He said that Mr. McCourt has been working diligently to reopen the Fishmarket as a "multivenue entertainment complex" and remains committed to carrying out that plan.
"There's been an on-going dialogue" with the city, Mr. Diamond said.
"We're making progress. There are a lot of pieces to this puzzle."
The mayor said that the McCourt group has had difficulty obtaining financing to reopen the building, which has more than a dozen liens against it. The developer also owes the city back taxes on the property.