Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke closed the door yesterday on suggestions that the city tear down the USF Constellation Center, the two-story, $875,000 ticket booth, gift shop and orientation gallery that critics say blocks views of the 1797 frigate, centerpiece of Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
The mayor said the building, completed this summer on land leased by the city, went through the appropriate design review channels and serves tourists well. He added that it was not constructed with public funds and that he did not believe city taxpayers would want to see public funds used to tear it down.
"I don't think the building ought to be taken down," he said at a breakfast with reporters. "There was an event at the Constellation last weekend, and the people who were there really enjoyed that visitors center."
Under an agreement signed between the directors of the Constellation and the city's Board of Estimates, the building is allowed to remain until the year 2028. A number of people who live or work in the city, including the general manager and merchants at Harborplace, have complained that the building is too large for its site and blocks the views of the harbor and of the ship it's meant to promote.
In 14 of the 15 letters or second editorial page articles printed about the building this summer in The Sun, correspondents voiced opposition to the building, and most called for it to be taken down. The only article in favor of the building was from Herbert Witz, president of the USF Constellation Foundation.
Mr. Schmoke said he believes most of the critics are not so much concerned about the building's size or length or color as about its height and the way it "comes up at an angle right above the ship." He said that city officials had promised land for a new Constellation center since 1970.
"There were problems in the process that I hope we won't repeat," he said. "But I don't think it would be in the best interests of the city or the Constellation to tear it down... I think there was a need for an information center, and most tourists are going to like the facility."
Mr. Schmoke added that he still has confidence in the city's Architectural Review Board that reviewed the center plans in closed session.
"I think generally it's served the city well, and this particular incident by itself shouldn't serve as a basis for completely changing the process," he said.