Phillips Seafood Restaurant, which has perfumed the air around Harborplace with the scent of Old Bay as an original tenant in the 31-year-old landmark, will not renew its lease and plans to shut down its crab pots there on Sept. 30.
A source close to the negotiations said Phillips could be eyeing a move into the former ESPN Zone site at the historic Power Plant building near the National Aquarium. That site was vacated a year ago when the ESPN Zone abruptly closed, blaming the recession.
“At this point, Sept. 30 is the end of our lease at Harborplace and we are exploring other lease options,” said Honey Konicoff, vice president of marketing at Phillips.
“That’s all we have to say.”
Konicoff said Friday owners of the popular eatery and bar located in the Light Street Pavilion had made the decision not to renew their lease with General Growth Properties recently, but she declined to say why.
Two other Phillips locations in Harborplace — Phillips Seafood Express and Phillips Seafood Buffet — are also closing Sept. 30.
Konicoff declined to answer if business revenues had dropped or whether leasing issues with General Growth Properties, owner of Harborplace, had forced the closing of all Phillips locations at Harborplace. The seafood restaurant chain, which had a humble beginning as a steamed crab eatery in Ocean City 50 years ago, also has restaurants in Ocean City, Atlantic City, Myrtle Beach, Philadelphia and Washington.
Christopher S. Schardt, senior general manager of Harborplace and The Gallery, said in a statement released Friday afternoon he wished Phillips well.
“Phillips Seafood Restaurant has been a valued tenant and strong community presence at Harborplace for the past 30 years,” Schardt’s statement said. “After extensive discussions, it was determined amicably that Phillips will not be signing a new lease following the expiration of their current lease.
“We at Harborplace acknowledge the role that Phillips Seafood Restaurant has played in our history and wish them continued success.”
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Friday afternoon she was unaware of the closing of Phillips. The mayor was at Harborplace for the grand opening of Lenny’s Deli in the Pratt Street Pavilion.
“My general hope is that growth will continue to develop a vibrant Harborplace,” Rawlings-Blake said in response to a question about Phillips moving out.
Megan Flattery, a spokeswoman for The Cordish Cos., which owns the Power Plant, did not return a call for comment on Phillips moving into the larger space.
Konicoff also declined to confirm or deny that Phillips would be moving to the Power Plant.
“We are very committed to staying in Baltimore,” she said.
At Harborplace Friday, some said they were shocked by the announcement.
“I would hate to see it go. It’s been here forever,” said Rebekah Saunders, cashier at MiniMelts Ice Cream in the Pratt Street Pavilion. “I’ve had multiple customers and out-of-state visitors come and ask me where it is. I feel like it draws a lot more people into the Inner Harbor. There could be people who won’t come down here anymore if it’s gone.”
Mike Dunn, of Baltimore, works for Wells Fargo and said Phillips’ departure will be sorely noted.
“Phillips is the kind of quintessential Baltimore experience,” Dunn said. “Baltimore is crab cakes and crabs. It would be a loss to the Inner Harbor and it would take away from the Baltimore experience. And if you’re a tourist in Baltimore, you really come down for the Baltimore experience, so it could have a negative impact on businesses in the area.”
Susan and Todd Heine, visiting from Los Angeles, walked around the Inner Harbor on Friday and said they had dinner at Phillips Thursday.
“I remember coming here as a child,” Susan Heine said. “I think of Phillips when I think of the Inner Harbor.”
Added her husband, Todd: “When we planned our trip here the first thing she said was, ‘We’re coming to Phillips.’”