A vision for the future

October 14, 1991

Amid all the gloom and doom haunting the state's finances, yesterday's dedication of the Christopher Columbus Center of Marine Research and Exploration was a welcome opportunity to look toward an exciting future. Soon to rise on Piers 5 and 6 at the Inner Harbor, the $164 million center is designed to maintain this country's leadership in marine biotechnology. It also promises enormous economic and educational benefits to the region.

Research in marine biotechnology is crucial in a number of areas. Projects for the center include efforts to develop new treatments for diseases, increase the supply of food from the sea, preserve threatened fish and other marine life and find ways to control or prevent marine pollution. But the scope of the Columbus Center goes beyond this one field. The complex will also house a marine archeology center that will recover and preserve old wrecks and, in the process, develop new techniques and instruments for deep-water explorations and underwater robotics. Other units in the center will provide educational outreach programs for area students as well as exhibition space.

At a time when there seems to be no money available for even routine government services, it is remarkable to see federal, state and local governments and the private sector coming together to fund this kind of visionary investment in the future. But if projections for the center's economic impact are even halfway right, the money will be well spent. One study has predicted that the Columbus Center could attract to Maryland or create as many as 250 new companies over a decade, and that it will pump $300 million annually into the Maryland economy.

The center will have national impact as well. The Japanese are now investing $600 million into marine biotechnology research facilities, using as their model the research center headed by the University of Maryland's Dr. Rita Colwell. Fortunately, the federal government recognizes the enormous economic potential of this field -- and the competition this country faces. And fortunately for this region, Baltimore and Maryland have produced leaders with the vision and clout to see the benefits of locating such a important project in a city with a history of prospering from its relationship to the sea.

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