Columbus Center dumps famed British architect after dispute over fees Firm from Toronto will design project

December 06, 1991|By Edward Gunts

Unable to agree on fees in a "worsening economic climate," planners of the Inner Harbor's Christopher Columbus Center parted ways yesterday with the showpiece project's superstar British architect.

Directors of the Christopher Columbus Center of Marine Research and Exploration voted unanimously yesterday to hire a new designer for the $164 million project's "construction phases," effectively replacing London architect Richard Rogers.

Chairman Stanley Heuisler said the board was unable to come to terms with Mr. Rogers on a fee schedule and was afraid the final design would be too expensive to build.

The decision was necessary, he said, for the marine research and exhibition center to move forward on Piers 5 and 6.

When the board was still "at loggerheads" with Mr. Rogers after months of negotiations, Mr. Heuisler said, members reluctantly decided to hire another designer.

The board voted to begin negotiating a contract with the Zeidler Roberts Partnership of Toronto, runner-up to Mr. Rogers in an international selection process that the Columbus Center planners launched in 1989.

Mr. Heuisler said the change would not significantly affect the construction timetable, which calls for work to begin in late 1992 and be complete in late 1994 or early 1995. He said he would like the new architects to prepare a preliminary design by March to present to state legislators.

The Zeidler Roberts Partnership's first Baltimore project was the $200 million Gallery at Harborplace complex for the Rouse Co., which was hired last summer to manage development of the Columbus Center.

Although Rouse officials were instrumental in the decision to replace Mr. Rogers, Mr. Heuisler said, the board would have begun negotiations with Zeidler Roberts whether Rouse was involved or not, because Zeidler Roberts was the runner-up in 1989.

The switch drew immediate criticism from the head of Baltimore's largest architecture firm, RTKL Associates, which was also part of a team that was a finalist for the Columbus Center design work.

"There's a lot of public money involved," said RTKL chairman Harold Adams, who has been arguing that local architects should be considered for major local projects.

"If they're changing horses . . . it sure as hell doesn't seem right to have the money going to Canada," he said.

Mr. Heuisler said the board did not have enough time to reopen the selection process and still stick to its goal of having a design by next March.

The board already has paid more than $1 million for preliminary work by the London architect and his team. Before that, it worked with a local group headed by Mario L. Schack.

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