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MPT considers move to city's Power Plant


Maryland Public Television is tentatively considering moving all or part of its operations from Owings Mills to the city's historic Power Plant to increase the network's visibility and create a tourist attraction.

David Nevins, chairman of the Maryland Public Broadcasting Commission, said yesterday that such a move could shift as many as 250 jobs from MPT's campus into downtown Baltimore. But Mr. Nevins emphasized the MPT staff was still studying the idea and that it could face insurmountable obstacles.

The city, which has been seeking a tenant for the sprawling, turn-of-the-century complex since 1990, has set a Sept. 15 deadline for proposals. The city's request rules out offices as a primary use of the site and calls for an entertainment complex to form a "major new attraction" complementing others in the Inner Harbor.

Hoteliers, tourism officials and business leaders say a tourist attraction should occupy the building to help build the $1 billion-a-year industry and encourage more visitors.

Dale Garvin, acting executive director of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, said an office building would waste a potential tourism gold mine.

"It would serve the city best if it were a tourist attraction," Mr. Garvin said. "With the amount of office space downtown that is already vacant, I don't think the Power Plant should be utilized for office space."

Mr. Nevins, asked about reports of MPT officials touring the failed indoor theme park at Pier 5, said the idea of a move downtown was his. "A couple of weeks ago, a light went on in my head when I heard of the city's renewed interest in returning activity to the Power Plant," he said.

He said the idea held out "intriguing possibilities," including using the Power Plant's 500-seat theater to produce shows with live audiences -- including perhaps MPT's flagship "Wall Street Week in Review" with Louis Rukeyser. He added that a downtown MPT facility could become a tourist attraction by "becoming more public and inviting the public in to see what we're doing."

Clinton R. Coleman, press secretary for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, declined comment on MPT's interest but added, "At this point, we would welcome any and all proposals, with the exception of casino gambling."

MPT is the latest of a series of would-be tenants to look at the Power Plant. The city has reviewed more than two dozen proposals for the site in four separate rounds of bidding. Except for some offices occupied by a sports-themed entertainment center whose plans to develop the Power Plant fell through this summer, the prime piece of real estate has remained empty for five years.

Mr. Nevins also said a downtown MPT facility could take advantage of the proximity of the Columbus Center, the children's museum being built and other downtown institutions in creating programming.

Because MPT probably wouldn't need the entire plant, MPT could look for a partner to share the facility, Mr. Nevins said.

One possibility he mentioned was creating a telecommunications museum to complement the other scientific and educational facilities at the harbor. He said the staff would also study the option of locating one studio there and keeping most of its facilities in Owings Mills.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening said yesterday that Mr. Nevins had informed him that MPT was exploring the possibility of a move to the Power Plant. The governor said the state would have to do a serious cost-benefit analysis before moving ahead.

Baltimore County Executive C. A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger was spending a long weekend in Bermuda, and his spokesman, Michael H. Davis, said he would have no comment because he had not heard of the possibility.

But Robert L. Hannon, director of Baltimore County's Economic Development Commission, said: "MPT is a good thing for the county. It adds to the county and adds to the county's reputation. This mystifies me."

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