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Port Discovery proves a hamburger heaven Boom: The opening of the Port Discovery children's museum is a boon to the nearby Fuddrucker's, which did three times its normal business Tuesday.; Inner Harbor


Bill Larkin, manager of the downtown Fuddrucker's, wasn't expecting to do three times his usual volume Tuesday or to sell 89 kid-sized hot dogs compared to the typical 80 a week.

Yesterday, fearing he would run out of food before his next

delivery, Larkin bought an emergency 360 pounds of hamburger to get through the day -- a day in which he expected to serve 1,000 meals.

His increase in business is quick and tangible evidence of the economic impact from Tuesday's opening of Port Discovery, Baltimore's new $32 million children's museum, the third largest of its kind in the country.

"I think when the hotel comes, it's going to be even better," said Larkin, referring to the planned $134 million Wyndham Inner Harbor East Hotel at East Falls Avenue and Aliceanna Street. "I can see everything moving east."

Larkin, who said he has seen a rise in business lately from other new attractions, predicts that restaurant sales will be up 25 percent next year.

Port Discovery, in the old Fishmarket entertainment complex, had 2,527 paid visitors on its opening day -- a number its creators hope will translate into 450,000 a year.

Based on that level of visitation, Port Discovery officials expect it will boost the state's economy by at least $14.5 million annually. Those visitors also are expected to generate more than $26 million in new sales and receipts, said Kathy Dwyer Southern, president and chief executive officer for Port Discovery.

"Potentially, it's the aquarium of the '90s," said Donald P. Hutchinson, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee, referring to the opening of the National Aquarium in the Inner Harbor in 1981. "I think you can equate the children's museum to the Science Center and to the aquarium for the impact it can have on the harbor."

As an additional family oriented attraction, Port Discovery is expected to help solidify the city's status as a family destination and give both leisure and convention travelers another reason to extend their stay.

And the museum's location, just beyond the Inner Harbor, is considered to be a linchpin in broadening the area's attractions, drawing tourists to places they haven't traditionally frequented.

"The business community is very excited, because this takes you off the water into the heart of the harbor community," Hutchinson said. "It takes you into some facilities that were important to the Inner Harbor and downtown Baltimore 20 years ago, but had fallen into some disrepair. We think it extends the harbor, takes it east, and it's going to take tourists that way."

Hutchinson and others agree that key to the museum's success is securing repeat visits from locals.

"These are the same people who feel compelled to return to the aquarium, the Science Center and to Camden Yards," he said.

Programs to keep the exhibits fresh will be important, but the sheer size of the museum alone is likely to prompt repeat visits because it takes three or four hours to see everything, Hutchinson said.

"Not only will it create an additional reason for families to come downtown and spend an extra day or days, I do believe it will spur both other commercial and noncommercial development," said Laurie Schwartz, president of Downtown Partnership. "It will help generate activity beyond the Inner Harbor and contribute to the feasibility of the redevelopment of the Brokerage."

The nearby Brokerage complex at 34 Market Place is expected to be developed as a family oriented retail, entertainment and arts pavilion.

"In a year when downtown achieved its pinnacle of health, Port Discovery is just the latest example," Schwartz said.

Families represent the largest number of visitors to Baltimore, according to a recent study by D. K. Shifflet & Associates Ltd. of McLean, Va.

"Bringing family attractions to Baltimore helps us underscore that Baltimore is an exciting family destination," said Carroll R. Armstrong, president and chief executive officer of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. "Provided everyone works together, it can have a major impact."

This latest attraction needs to be viewed in perspective, GBC's Hutchinson noted. The Science Center was considered risky when it opened in 1976 as the first major Inner Harbor attraction, as was the aquarium when it opened five years later on a prime piece of city real estate, he said.

"The children's museum is risky because it's the first family attraction off the harbor," he said. "We don't know what the result will be. But we're optimistic. We think the potential is terrific."

Pub Date: 12/31/98

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