Rouse may manage marine center work Proposal indicates firm's interest in diversification

May 25, 1991|By Edward Gunts rJB

Seeking to capitalize on one of the biggest projects still in the planning stages for downtown Baltimore, the Rouse Co. has offered to manage construction and development of the $200 million Christopher Columbus Center of Marine Research and Exploration slated for Inner Harbor piers 5 and 6.

Christopher Columbus Center Development Inc., the quasi-public organization that has been planning the project for the past several years, disclosed yesterday that it received an unsolicited proposal from Rouse, which has built large waterfront complexes in nearly a dozen U.S. cities, to manage the building and development team for the center on a contractual basis.

In response, the development agency has set June 14 as the deadline for letters of interest from other individuals or companies that would like to manage construction and development of the project, Baltimore's next major Inner Harbor attraction.

The unsolicited proposal is a sign that Columbia-based Rouse, which is best known for its regional shopping centers and urban marketplaces, is moving aggressively to branch into other development areas, including institutional projects.

Rouse is also one of nearly two dozen firms vying for the right to build a $97 million headquarters for the U.S. Health Care Financing Administration in downtown Baltimore.

For the Columbus Center, the presence of Rouse or a comparable company could give greater credibility to the project in the eyes of the business community and make it easier to raise money and attract occupants.

"It certainly wouldn't hurt," said Stanley Heuisler, chairman of the non-profit board behind the project. "A company of their reputation obviously would add weight to the entire project."

Described as a "Smithsonian of the Seas," the Columbus Center is being designed by British architect Richard Rogers and others to bring research labs for marine biotechnology, a maritime museum, conference space, classrooms and other facilities together in one place on Baltimore's waterfront.

More than $13 million already has been raised for design and construction, and work on the first phase is slated to begin by late 1992, with completion by late 1994.

Mr. Heuisler said the board originally planned to assemble a staff from scratch to oversee construction and operation of the facility, in the same way that the Maryland Stadium Authority formed a staff to oversee construction and operation of the ball park in Camden Yards. The board has already hired the Barton Malow Co. to be the project construction manager.

But under the Rouse Co. proposal, Mr. Heuisler said, its employees would provide much of the staff that would otherwise have to be assembled to manage the building and development team.

Among its services would be contract management, selection of consultants, coordination with governmental agencies to obtain design approval and building permits, financial management, insurance management, administration of grants and monitoring of contractors to ensure compliance with minority hiring goals.

Mr. Heuisler said Rouse or any other manager of building and development would receive a fee for its services and would have no equity interest in the project.

He said the manager would report directly to an executive committee of the non-profit board and carry out its wishes.

Mathias J. DeVito, chief executive officer of the Rouse Co., said that the company offered its services because officials there see the Columbus Center as a "very critical and important piece of the region's future" and believe they have the expertise to carry out such a complex waterfront development far better than a staff assembled from scratch.

He said projects such as South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan and the Gallery at Harborplace and Harborplace developments in Baltimore demonstrate the company's expertise in working with federal, state and local agencies and a variety of users to create a multi-faceted development on a tight urban waterfront.

In addition, Rouse developed much of Columbia under the same kind of management contract that it has proposed for the Columbus Center, he said.

Although planners have done "a remarkable job of bringing the project to this point," Mr. DeVito said, "there are a lot of pitfalls that could cause it not to go forward. . . . It really needs to be in the hands of a company that has done this kind of project before."

Mr. Heuisler said the board will decide how to proceed after June 14. He said that he hopes to have the manager of the building and development team and an executive director identified by the end of summer and to unveil the design for the project soon after that.

The current nine-member board also plans to expand to 17 members and to create a national advisory board with a nationally prominent chairman, he added.

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