Restyling the Spectrum: Learning from Baltimore
Walk to the fringes of Baltimore's Inner Harbor to the Power Plant and the Power Plant Live!, and you get a taste of what will go up in Philadelphia when the Spectrum comes down.
At the Power Plant, Baltimore developer Cordish Co. has filled a once-vacant - you guessed it - power plant with tourist-friendly stores: ESPN Zone, Barnes & Noble and Hard Rock Cafe. Next to the building's smokestacks, a giant red guitar beckons shoppers.
About two blocks away sits Cordish's Power Plant Live!, a horseshoe of restaurants and bars, complete with outdoor seating,
plenty of leafy trees, and a large stage for live music - all under a marquee featuring bolts of electricity.
This mixture of shops and entertainment is a hallmark of projects by Cordish, which says it plans to transform the site of the Wachovia Spectrum into Philly Live!, a retail/entertainment/hospitality extravaganza - though it hasn't supplied the details.
Jonathan Cordish, vice president of the company and fourth-generation descendant of its founder, said the two Baltimore projects were a dozen years old, a long time in the 98-year-old company's evolution. These days, Cordish's projects are far grander and often revolve around sports stadiums or racetracks.
"The scope and scale of those projects has grown exponentially since we undertook the Power Plant," Cordish said.
The Philadelphia project, he said, has more in common with Cordish's $850 million Power and Light District, adjacent to the Sprint Center arena in Kansas City, or Ballpark Village, a project next to Busch Stadium that is still in negotiations in St. Louis. Woodbine Live, a 25-acre entertainment district next to Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, is an even more ambitious undertaking.
Cordish, which also developed The Walk retail-outlet mall in Atlantic City, says it is one of the world's largest developers. "We own, operate and manage over 40 million square feet of real estate around the country," Jonathan Cordish said. The company doesn't just build and fill space, he said, it brings in concerts and events to draw crowds.
The company has its hand in all manner of real estate, restaurants, casinos, even film distribution. Cordish is one of the bidders for the Tropicana Casino & Resort.
Some have wondered whether a slots casino is in the plans for the Spectrum site. Cordish was unequivocal: "Gaming is absolutely not under consideration."
Cordish said that, even in a tight economy, he expected no problems attracting tenants to Philadelphia. "We have many tenants that in effect like to follow us around the country," he said.
The goal will be to sign a broad range of tenants while capitalizing on Philadelphia's sports madness. Each company project reflects its home city, said Cordish, who has a Wharton M.B.A. and is a fan of Philly food. "What you're ultimately trying to do is something that feels like it grew up in the city you're in."
Cordish said his father, David Cordish, became interested in urban redevelopment while working for President Jimmy Carter. Beginning in the 1980s, the company started developing downtown projects in Salt Lake City; Charleston, S.C.; and Houston.
The Power Plants in Baltimore are smaller and less integrated - the retail district is separate from the Live! entertainment area - than what the company plans here. But Baltimore leaders say the projects were pivotal in expanding the city's resurgence beyond the National Aquarium.
Nancy Hines, vice president of public affairs for the Baltimore Area Convention & Visitors Association, said that, before Cordish, the power-plant building brought failure to many businesses. "A lot of different projects came and went in that power plant," she said. "Nothing ever stuck."
Cordish brought in the country's first ESPN Zone and used big, clever signs to lure visitors to the distinctive building. "The Power Plant quickly became one of the most popular attractions in Baltimore," Hines said.
Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, said the Cordish properties were well-managed and continued to be hot spots.
On a sticky day this week, the lunchtime crowd milled around the Power Plant. A trio of yellow school buses parked nearby.
"I remember when this was nothing but mud, fish, water and train tracks," said James Lee Worrell, 73, pointing to the surrounding area.
Worrell comes down to the Inner Harbor to people-watch and pass the time. "People come from all over," he said. "Every day is something new to see."
That afternoon, Gabrielle Boggs, 20, was outside the Live! with her boyfriend, Christos Kotisis, 22, both culinary-arts students.
Boggs used to party at Rams Head, where she could see her favorite local bands every weekend. The place holds about 2,000 and has seen the likes of Pat Benatar and the Leg Warmers. Another Boggs favorite is the Babalu Grill, which serves drinks called the Latin Lover and Mojito Suave.
"On weekends and nighttime," Boggs said, "this place is real busy."
It's too early to tell whether the bigger project in Kansas City will be equally successful. But Rick Hughes, president and CEO of the city's Convention & Visitors Association, said the signs were encouraging.
The Power and Light District, which takes up about 12 blocks of downtown Kansas City, opened in March and is about 70 percent complete. "It's a massive undertaking," Hughes said. ". . . I think it's pretty remarkable that we are where we are today."
The Sprint Center, which has not yet signed a permanent sports team, has hosted many concerts, Hughes said. Even without frequent sports events, the concentration of restaurants and entertainment venues has been popular. He likes an Irish bar that imported its interior from Ireland, a sophisticated bowling "lounge" called Lucky Strike Lanes, and the Living Room, a covered outdoor plaza.
Kendrick Blackwood, a spokesman for the city's mayor, said that there have been some questions about the pace of the opening, but that the city was pleased with the project so far. "Generally, what Cordish has done is beautiful," he said. "It is fundamentally changing the look, the feel, the energy of downtown Kansas City, Mo. It is a phenomenal change."