Hooters has had enough.
The longest-tenured restaurant at Baltimore’s Harborplace has endured protests, multiple landlords and years of neglect. After a break-in this fall, Hooters sued the former and current ownership of the Inner Harbor pavilions, calling them “unkempt, dirty and poorly maintained.”
Hooters claims the disrepair at Harborplace — hanging wires, cracked floors and ceilings, dripping air ducts, burnt-out light bulbs and much more — harms its business and is a violation of its lease agreement.
According to the lawsuit, the neglect largely took place under the ownership of New York-based Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp., which bought Harborplace in 2012. The festival marketplace struggled to retain tenants and turn a profit, and Ashkenazy defaulted on its debt in 2019.
Baltimore-based MCB Real Estate bought the pavilions in June and is planning a major redevelopment of the area. In the meantime, Hooters claims, MCB has done little to improve the situation at Harborplace.
According to court records, Ashkenazy has not filed a response to the complaint by Hooters. The firm did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a legal filing this week, MCB largely denied the claims by Hooters and argued it is not liable for any possible contractual failures by Ashkenazy.
Spokesperson Alexandra Hughes said via email that MCB plans to file a counterclaim against Hooters. Hughes said the restaurant “has not been abiding by the terms of its lease,” but did not immediately respond to further questions.
Hooters is an Atlanta-based restaurant chain that features chicken wings and beer served by waitresses in tight clothing.
The restaurant faced protests when it opened in Harborplace in 1990, The Baltimore Sun reported at the time, with some questioning whether it belonged in the beloved festival marketplace. A spokesman for then-Mayor Kurt Schmoke said the restaurant did not fit the “family environment.”
But as other restaurants have come and gone, Hooters has outlasted all of them. The only other restaurant remaining at Harborplace is a Cheesecake Factory that opened in 1996.
Hooters planned to move from the second floor to the first when Ashkenazy renovated the Light Street pavilion, construction that continued into 2017, according to the Baltimore Business Journal. After multiple delays, Hooters moved to the first floor, where it rents more than 6,000 square feet and an outdoor patio.
“It was of critical importance to Hooters that Harborplace be thriving, enticing, and an attractive place for its customers and potential customers,” the restaurant chain’s complaint said.
That’s no longer the case, according to Hooters. Most of Harborplace is now vacant. The landlords have “failed to adequately police Harborplace,” the lawsuit said, noting that “vagrants and homeless people” sleep and urinate in the common areas.
Hooters hired its own security force for the last 1 1/2 years, the lawsuit said, but it still suffered a break-in in September.
Today, Hooters is a significant revenue generator for Harborplace and accounts for about a fifth of gross rent at the pavilions, according to the most recently available financial reports.
When Ashkenazy defaulted on its debt, Harborplace fell into a legal process called receivership. As part of this process, Harborplace had to produce monthly reports that detailed its finances.
According to the monthly report filed in June 2023, the annual gross rents at Harborplace were about $2.9 million, with most of that money coming from the Cheesecake Factory and Hooters.
It’s unclear what the future holds for the Inner Harbor Hooters. MCB plans to demolish the twin pavilions as part of an ambitious redevelopment of the area, but Hooters has a 10-year lease at Harborplace.
According to a 2022 appraisal report, Hooters previously agreed to terminate its lease without requiring a buyout — but only if it had a space at the newly rebuilt Harborplace.
Correction: This story has been updated with the correct year that Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp. bought Harborplace, and to correct details regarding Hooters’ move to the first floor of the Light Street pavilion.