WASHINGTON -- House and Senate conferees, boosted by the attendance of two Maryland lawmakers, approved $10 million this week toward engineering and construction costs of a planned marine research center at the Inner Harbor, according to congressional aides.
The proposed $200 million Christopher Columbus Center of Marine Research and Exploration is expected to pick up the $10 million from two separate spending bills, whose conferees included Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., and Representative Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.-5th, aides to both members said.
Proponents of the center, slated for Piers 5 and 6, said the money -- which still requires final approval by Congress and the president's signature -- guarantees that construction will begin by next fall, with part of the facility to open by 1992, the 500th anniversary of the Italian explorer's voyage to the New World.
"The symbolism of this is just extraordinary," said Stan Heuisler, editor of Baltimore Magazine and chairman of the eight-member executive committee formed to develop the project. He said the congressional commitment shows the center is "a national priority."
"This money gets us building," he said. "This is going to get us into the ground on schedule by fall 1991."
The center is slated to include a marine biotechnology center and a marine archaeological museum. Mr. Heuisler said the latest federal funds will go toward site preparation and construction -- beginning next fall -- of a parking garage that will serve as the foundation for the Center for Marine Biotechnology.
The federal government, which is expected to pick up a total of $55 million toward the project, offered $1.5 million last year for preliminary design work. The balance of the $200 million price tag will come from state, city and private sources. Half of the city's estimated $71 million share is expected to include donation of the real estate on the two piers.
The state, which is expected to set aside about $48 million for the center, provided a $180,000 planning grant last year.
Mr. Heuisler said yesterday that he hopes the state can come up with $4 million in the next budget toward construction of the marine archaeology center. Gov. William Donald Schaefer has said the state is committed to the project.
But J. Randall Evans, secretary of economic and employment development, said yesterday that it was "too early" to determine how much money would be set aside in next year's budget.