Ravens' Lewis plans entertainment center

Preparing for life after a bone-crushing NFL career, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis unveiled plans Tuesday for a sports-themed entertainment center in Hunt Valley that could be the first in a national chain.

The project, called MVP Entertainment, will be built at Hunt Valley Towne Centre. Lewis has a majority stake. His business adviser, Marc Rosen, and Rosen's wife, Laura, are minority partners.

Lewis was optimistic about crafting a life in the business world beyond the NFL.

"Instead of putting on a helmet, you put on a tie and a suit," he said. "That's where my next phase in life is going - the building and giving back to who we are in this world."

He and the Rosens laid out an ambitious vision for MVP Entertainment, which is to be completed by Super Bowl time next year. It will feature tiered bowling lanes, a 100-foot-wide video wall, a 150-seat restaurant and sushi bar, private event rooms, a quick-service restaurant, golf simulators, an arcade, a radio broadcast center, and a sports memorabilia and bowling pro shop.

Click here for photos of the groundbreaking and an artists rendering of the entertainment complex.

Marc Rosen said MVP will feature "never before seen" NFL memorabilia from Lewis' personal collection, but it will not be decorated with the player's likeness.

They have been working on the project for 18 months and did not allow the recession and a weak consumer spending climate to deter them, Rosen said. He said they visited and researched similar establishments across the country before embarking on their own.

"We decided, if we're going to do it, let's do it now," he said. "We really believe the community wants this."

MVP would occupy part of the site of the former Walmart. The 63,000-square-foot facility will round out the offerings at the rejuvenated shopping center, which has a Wegmans, Sears, Best Buy, a movie theater complex and numerous shops and restaurants.

Their plans include launching similar MVP locations in other cities where there are NFL and other pro sports teams, and each location will take on the flavor of its local sports scene, Marc Rosen said.

Patrons at the Hunt Valley location can expect a front-entrance experience similar to what Lewis encounters each time he walks through the tunnel and onto the field at M&T Bank Stadium, Laura Rosen told a crowd at Tuesday's groundbreaking.

Marc Rosen, a trial lawyer and chairman of Owings Mills-based K Bank, met the football player about seven years ago after Lewis did some marketing for him. He and Lewis had been talking "for years" about which direction to take Lewis' career when he eventually retires from the NFL.

Lewis wanted a venture that was healthy and family-oriented, to be active in his investments and to have Baltimore be a part of any enterprise. Bowling was a natural fit because Lewis loves the sport.

"He's an outstanding bowler," Rosen said.

It makes sense for a professional player to launch a new enterprise while still active in the sport, said Ray Schulte, owner of a sports marketing agency, Schulte Sports, in Woodstock. There are some common pitfalls to avoid, such as falsely believing that a high-profile name can single-handedly carry a venture, not knowing an industry well enough to succeed in it, and not picking the right partners and management to help run an operation, he said.

"The thing that Ray has, which he can utilize, is that he's starting in a market that he knows and understands and he's beloved in," Schulte said. "He has business background. He probably has aligned himself with people who are very capable of running a business."

The venture is Lewis' second in the hospitality business. Four years ago, he launched Ray Lewis' Full Moon Bar-B-Que, a restaurant in Baltimore's Canton neighborhood, that was a partnership with a small chain in Alabama. Lewis and the chain promoted plans for a national expansion, but it never materialized.

The restaurant was located in the trendy Can Company complex, and early reports put Lewis' initial investment at $2 million. It was decorated in Ravens colors and contained Lewis photos and memorabilia. Lewis, whose mother had operated a small fast-food store in Memphis, Tenn., had billed it as a family-oriented venue with a traditional Southern-style menu.

Lewis said Tuesday that he decided to close the restaurant earlier this year after learning many valuable lessons so he could focus on the Hunt Valley project.

"I thought, 'Why don't I put [my energy] into a bigger and brighter vision, and put it closer to my house," he said.

The investors declined to say how much money they are putting into the project.

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