Neighbors raise roof over Bohager's plan; Owner wants to top bar with inflatable dome


Picture this Fells Point structure: a mostly white, inflatable dome, at least six stories high, covering about a quarter of a city block and visible from the Inner Harbor.

You may soon see it -- on the edge of the neighborhood's historic preservation district.

The bulbous building, which would resemble a much taller version of the bubble structures placed over tennis courts in the winter, will rise over Bohager's Parrot Island nightclub at Eden and Aliceanna streets if the city zoning board gives its approval next month.

If construction in the industrial-zoned western edge of Fells Point is approved, the dome will go up in a neighborhood divided.

Some in the area say that though the structure may not be attractive, they welcome the business it would attract. Others are expressing outrage.

"I'm shocked," said Katy Greene Davis, president of the Fells Point Homeowners' Association and one of many in the area concerned with the structure's stark aesthetics. "That thing would be totally inappropriate down here. It would be the last thing people would see as they head east into historic Fells Point."

The dome is the brainchild of nightclub owner and concert promoter Damian Bohager, who wants to cover his beach-themed outdoor club with a removable, air-pressurized dome, made of polyester, that could withstand the ravages of winter.

"I'm the first to admit, it probably is tacky," Bohager said. "But it's going to bring a lot of business."

In May, a partnership led by Bohager, who has operated a club in Fells Point since 1992, bought Parrot Island, an outdoor bar with a capacity for hundreds of people. Bohager closed his bar and relocated his operation to Parrot Island a block away.

At the time, Bohager told the city he would cover the Parrot Island bar by constructing a concrete building on the 26,000-square-foot site this winter.

Members of area business and homeowner groups, who have fought the development of large bars in their midst, said they were pleased by those plans because the building would resemble others in the neighborhood.

Then came summer.

"We would have over a thousand people a night on weekends," said Bohager, as he walked through the site. "The place was jumping."

That's when he began to rethink plans for construction, because a new building would have required tearing down or altering his favorite part of the site: Parrot Island's thatched-roof tiki hut, built by a Native American tribe from Florida in the early 1990s.

Bohager contracted with a St. Paul, Minn., company to come up with plans for the billowing structure.

If given the go-ahead by the city, the $500,000 dome could pop up just days later, Bohager said. A system of removable cables would be used to form a skeletal structure for the dome, which would be heated and remain inflated until spring. When warm weather arrives, it would be deflated, to be reinflated in future winters.

The bar owner is so confident the dome will gain approval he has already started booking acts for the winter and putting up posters announcing what he calls the "BohDome." He insisted that the structure will be nothing but a plus for Baltimore.

"The dome is going to be a major tourist hot spot," and a winter concert venue capable of attracting headline music performers to the city, he said.

He hasn't convinced all his neighbors, particularly those who live in the historic district just east of the bar.

"Our basic concern is it's gonna be this huge, white mushroom that basically dwarfs everything around it," said Davis, of the Fells Point homeowners group.

State Sen. Perry Sfikas, a Southeast Baltimore Democrat who has sponsored legislation to limit the size of bars in Fells Point, wants the city to halt the project, or at least limit the height of the dome.

"This will look like something that belongs in an amusement park, not near Fells Point," said Sfikas, who heads a task force of Fells Point businesses and homeowners opposed to the plan.

Businesses in the industrial areas to the north and west of the site, however, seem unfazed.

At Sylvan Learning Systems headquarters a block away, the proposed dome wasn't causing even a ripple of concern, said spokeswoman Vickie Glazar.

Joey Maruschak, owner of Charm City Signs, about 50 yards from the Parrot Island site, said: "A white dome kind of assails your senses, but I don't have any problem with it. It's kind of futuristic, and maybe we have to embrace that."

Both Davis' and Sfikas' groups have sent letters to the city's planning department and zoning board, urging further consideration.

The five-member Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals has the final say and will make a decision at its Nov. 9 meeting.

Frank Legambi, executive director of the board, said Bohager's planned dome conforms to the city's regulations for the area, which is zoned for industrial use. He said if the dome were proposed for a lot just a block away, in the historic preservation district, it would likely be rejected.

"It's a tough situation, and we'll consider all of the voices in the community, as well as aesthetics," he added. "But because of the zoning, you could just about build a GM car plant in that area."

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad