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Cordish way spells success in Baltimore Developer's talent transforming cities spreads to hometown; Power Plant exceeds hopes; Brokerage, Pier Six are next on agenda for being revived; Development

THE BALTIMORE SUN

David Cordish is renowned for saying, "More is more."

In the entertainment realm, multiple, complementary tenants feed off one another, magnifying the level of activity for all, he says.

It's part of the Cordish Co. philosophy of development -- a philosophy that has spawned dozens of successful projects in a half-dozen states.

But until recently, those projects were outside Maryland. With the success of the Power Plant project, Cordish, president and chairman of the Cordish Co., has come into his own on his turf.

With the Pier Four complex under its belt, Cordish Co. has been tapped to revive two other projects in the harbor's east end -- the long- moribund Brokerage in Market Place and the Pier Six concert pavilion.

In addition, Cordish, in conjunction with Towson-based Heritage Properties Inc., has redeveloped the long-vacant former Hutzler's department store in Towson, where a Barnes & Noble anchors the renamed Towson Circle.

And in North Baltimore, there's Hopkins Square, 100,000 square feet of retail space at 31st and Charles streets where Xando, a chain of European-style coffee-and-cocktail bars, recently became the first tenant.

"It is satisfying to do something in your hometown," Cordish said in a recent interview. "I feel very good. I know we've extended the harbor. But when you make a difference, whether it's here or Houston or Detroit you feel pretty good about it."

The Power Plant has been a greater success than its developers had ever imagined.

"The reality has exceeded the dream," Cordish said. "We do these entertainment projects around the country so we have a pretty good idea of the kind of clients we want and what will work. But I didn't expect the overwhelming, off-the-chart success we've seen."

Carroll R. Armstrong, president and CEO of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, says the Power Plant rapidly "is becoming one of the most significant projects in the Inner Harbor" -- playing a crucial role in Baltimore's second renaissance.

"I think what the Power Plant represents is a bridge," Armstrong said. "I look at the Inner Harbor as one side of the stream and Fells Point as the other side. What is happening right now is we're creating those footsteps to bridge that stream."

It isn't the first time the Cordish Co. has had a dramatic effect on a city.

In Houston, where Bayou Place -- an entertainment complex that includes restaurants, clubs and a live theater -- opened in an old convention center in the downtown theater district on Dec. 31, 1997, the results have been far-reaching.

"It's the single most important development in downtown in the last 30 years," said Jordy Tollett, president of the Houston convention bureau and director of the city's convention and entertainment department. "We believe it has been the key element in making people believe downtown could be a viable place to live and play."

With the project in place, a 3,500-car underground garage that used to run at about 72 percent occupancy now operates at about 100 percent, Tollett said. Additional parking revenue of $72,000 has come in each month since January 1998.

Also since the opening of Bayou Place, about 15 clubs have opened in the area, along with 1,500 residential units refurbished from old buildings. Another 3,000 new residential units have been completed, Tollett said.

Construction is expected to start on a second phase after the first of the year.

"We haven't seen the full impact yet," Tollett said. "Cordish's idea that more generates more has proven to be very true."

Locally, the Cordish Co.'s talent is evident from the crowds and sales numbers enjoyed by Power Plant tenants.

In its first year of operation, Inner Harbor Hard Rock revenue exceeded $13 million, according to Cordish, the property's landlord. The restaurant ranked second in its chain for sales per square foot -- topped only by the Orlando location -- according to Cordish officials. A Hard Rock spokesman, who declined to provide sales numbers, confirmed that the restaurant had exceeded expectations.

Although Walt Disney Co. consistently declines to provide financial details about its individual operations, Disney officials clearly are happy with the crowds that continue to show up at the first location of ESPN Zone, Disney's newest sports entertainment concept.

"Disney numbers are spectacular and well, well, well above projections," said Cordish, who said he could not provide specifics.

Nearby Barnes & Noble had a record-breaking opening, with 2,500 people attending, according to Allison Parker, a spokeswoman for the Cordish Co. Currently, sales are 30 percent above projections, Parker said. The new Baltimore location appears on corporate Christmas cards and will be on the cover of the company's annual report.

"(Cordish) understands the relationship of bringing in entertainment venues and what that role should be within a city," Armstrong said. "They are very adamant to make sure that the project they're proposing will complement what's already existing. That way we don't sacrifice our magic -- that which makes it uniquely Baltimore."

There is more development to come at the Power Plant. Arthur Anderson's regional office with 150 regular employees is scheduled to open in March. The site also will be used as a training facility, bringing in additional employees from other locations.

Also by March, the Cordish Co. is slated to take up the sixth floor for its headquarters office -- home to about 35 employees.

Last week, Cordish Co. officials announced that Gold's Gym will occupy 15,000-square-feet on the fourth floor. The gym will target downtown corporate business and tourists staying downtown through day passes.

Next on the agenda: developing the nearby Brokerage, at 34 Market Place. The city recently gave the Cordish Co. a 90-day exclusive negotiating privilege to develop that property.

"The goal for the Power Plant was to create a major destination attraction to complement the existing attractions in the Inner Harbor," said Joe Weinberg, executive vice president of the Cordish Co., and also a Baltimore native. "Our goal now is to expand and extend the success north and eastward."

At the Brokerage, the challenge is not unlike that of finding appropriate tenants for the Power Plant.

"We spent a lot of time trying to develop a tenant mix that would work all day and then evolve into an adult orientation at night," Weinberg said.

The design of the Brokerage presents its own set of obstacles, developers say.

"Physically, it's a nightmare," Cordish said. "It has nine separate buildings. But we've got to make it successful. It's very important to the children's museum."

Cordish said he has identified possible anchors but talking about them would be premature.

Such venues as jazz clubs, restaurants and coffee bars that would complement existing Inner Harbor attractions but have a different feel are being considered.

The city also recently chose the Cordish Co. to bolster the Pier Six Concert Pavilion -- a move intended to bring in bigger-name acts and likely to result in renovation of the 4,000-seat arena. That recent agreement also offers the Cordish Co. 90 days to firm up plans.

"Our whole objective with Pier Six is to increase the level of entertainment and exposure on the east end of the Inner Harbor," said Cordish spokeswoman Parker. "Every time there's a concert at Pier Six, we see an increase of activity at the Power Plant. The more activity you have at Pier Six, the more activity you're going to have in the Inner Harbor as a whole."

Pub Date: 12/27/98

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