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3 Power Plant proposals, 3 bankrolls


For years, Baltimore City received all manner of proposals to revive the lifeless Power Plant -- from a museum to an entertainment complex to an off-Broadway theater.

All the plans lacked one key ingredient: money.

So it came as a welcome surprise -- and a source of renewed hope that the cavernous complex will attract its first tenant in five years -- when the city's economic development agency reviewed three proposals this week that would be bankrolled by well-heeled financial backers.

"All of the proposals appear to have the wherewithal to finance their developments, which is a significant departure from the proposals we've received in the past," said Leslie Howard, development director for the Baltimore Development Corp. (BDC), the economic development agency.

"It makes us more optimistic that something's actually going to happen at the Power Plant this time around."

Financial backing for the proposals touting simulated trips to Europe, virtual reality games, high-tech theaters and more traditional attractions would come from far and near: a French bank, affluent local investors, a venerable Baltimore investment banking firm.

Mr. Howard attributed the heightened interest among potential financiers to the economy's rebound and the growing, though recent, success of virtual reality and other high-tech attractions throughout the country.

Financial backers for the proposals, one of which BDC is to select after an independent panel's monthlong review, are:

* Alex. Brown & Sons. The Baltimore investment banking firm, has agreed to finance the Cordish Co.'s $18 million "Metropolis at the Power Plant."

The Baltimore-based Cordish Co., headed by David Cordish, proposes a mix of high-tech exhibits and virtual reality games, along with more traditional attractions such as children's theater, Broadway cabaret, a nationally known comedy club, a Hard Rock Cafe or similar major restaurant and retail stores.

* Pier Group Partners Ltd. The local group of wealthy investors, spearheaded by Otis Warren Jr., a prominent real estate developer and a partner of the adjacent Pier 5 Hotel and Restaurant complex, has lined up to revive a $30 million sports-entertainment complex idea.

The group also includes Diamond Comic Distributors Inc. founder and chief executive Steve Geppi; Michael Lasky, head of Inphomation Communications Inc., one of the nation's largest producers of "infomercials" and also a partner in the Pier 5 complex; and John Paterakis, president and co-founder of H&S; Bakery Inc. whose interests include Inner Harbor East, a 20-acre development parcel between the Inner Harbor and Fells Point.

"Sports Central" would convert the Power Plant to a sports-themed entertainment center featuring virtual reality games closely resembling Sports Center USA, the planned complex that had exclusive rights to the plant for three years until financing fell through in July. Lynda O'Dea, the sports marketing executive who led the previous effort, has returned, working this time with the investors group.

* Credit Lyonnais. The French bank would finance the $18.6 million project, "The European Experience," a British company's plan to employ high-tech "virtual reality" that would beckon with "journeys" through 15 European countries.

The developer, Grandname Ltd., a London-based company chartered in the British Virgin Islands, is a conglomerate that is working with Thomson-CSF, one of the world's leaders in virtual reality rides and entertainment, and Finurba LDA, a Grandname subsidiary and one of Portugal's largest architectural firms. Thomson-CSF, whose parent is owned by the French government, is the largest shareholder in Credit Lyonnais, with a 20 percent interest.

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