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Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. to replace Phillips at Harborplace

Harborplace patrons will soon be trading in crab cakes for shrimp barbecued, boiled, broiled, baked or sautéed. Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. announced Wednesday that it will be moving into the space now occupied by Phillips Seafood Restaurant.

The San Clemente, Calif.-based seafood chain, inspired by the hit film “Forrest Gump,” is scheduled to open by May 2012 in the 13,000-square-foot space.

“Bubba Gump is a great and fun place to go. The food is great, the atmosphere is great, and I think it’s going to fit in very well at Harborplace,” said David Keating, spokesman for General Growth Properties Inc., which owns Harborplace.

Keating declined to give details about the new lease, how long the deal had been in discussion or why Bubba Gump was chosen as a replacement for Phillips.

Harborplace General Manager Christopher Schardt did not return a call seeking comment but said in a statement that he expected visitors to “embrace this fun, casual seafood restaurant wholeheartedly.”

“Baltimore residents and tourists alike will have another great reason to visit Harborplace with the addition of Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.,” Schardt said in the statement.

The announcement came just five days after Phillips Seafood, an original tenant of Harborplace, announced that it would be vacating the spot it has occupied for 31 years after its lease expires on Sept. 30.

Phillips Seafood Express and Phillips Seafood Buffet, the franchise’s two other Harborplace locations, will also be closing on Sept. 30.

Although a source close to the negotiations said Friday that Phillips was considering a move to the former site of the ESPN Zone in the Power Plant building, which has been vacant since the restaurant and arcade closed last year, Phillips spokeswoman Honey Konicoff declined to confirm or deny these reports.

“We have let people know that we have terminated our lease. We love Baltimore and we hope to stay in Baltimore but we have nothing else that we can tell people right now,” Konicoff said.

Megan Slattery, spokeswoman for Power Plant’s owner, The Cordish Cos., did not return a call regarding Phillips moving into the historic building.

David Kincheloe, president of National Restaurant Consultants, said that although it was difficult to speculate on the reasons for the transition, factors may have included Bubba Gump’s status as a household name and Harborplace’s leasing rates and terms.

“You’re looking at a more nationally recognized chain in an area that is a huge tourist attraction,” Kincheloe said. “People from all over the country recognize the Bubba Gump Shrimp name.”

“In most cases like that, it’s usually that the lease rate or terms have become too onerous for smaller companies or they’ve had better incentives from a different location,” Kincheloe said.

Although Bubba Gump has more than 30 locations worldwide, the Harborplace location will be the first in Maryland and only the second in the northeast. Bubba Gump had planned to open a Baltimore branch in 1998 atop a floating barge that would have been developed by The Cordish Cos. However, the project was abandoned after complaints from the National Aquarium about the restaurant’s proposed location.