When the University of Baltimore bought the former Pat Hays Buick dealership cater-cornered from Meyerhoff Symphony Hall last year, the purpose was to provide more parking space for students and faculty.
But later this month, the showroom and garage on Biddle Street between Maryland Avenue and Cathedral Street will be used to park something a little more provocative than Buicks.
The university has agreed to make the building available on a temporary basis to the Museum for Contemporary Art, a 2-year-old organization formed to promote a better understanding of modern art by presenting -- often in unlikely locations -- exhibits, performances, films and lectures not available at other local institutions.
From Jan. 26 to Feb. 23, the second floor of the former car dealership will be the setting of two exhibits about urban unrest and urban violence.
One is "Soul Shadows: Urban Warrior Myths," a multimedia installation by New Orleans native Dawn Dedeaux. The other is "The Woodbourne Workshops," an exhibition of art created by children from the Woodbourne Center, a short-term residential facility for emotionally disturbed adolescents.
Yesterday, crews began installing work from the Woodbourne exhibit in an upper-level showroom where the brown carpet still showed oil stains from cars. Work on the "Urban Warrior Myths" exhibit has been under way for several weeks.
Museum director George Ciscle said he considered numerous sites before settling on the auto showroom, which became vacant last fall. He said the interior space was ideal for exhibits and he liked its proximity to the Mount Royal cultural area and the Maryland Institute College of Art as well as its connection to the University of Baltimore, which has programs in both criminal justice and liberal arts.
"When I noticed the building was vacant last fall, I asked the Downtown Partnership about it and they put us in touch with the University of Baltimore," he said. "Everyone there has been very supportive."
The university plans to convert the building to a 500-car garage shortly after the exhibit ends. Preliminary plans by Wheeler, Goodman, Masek & Associates of Annapolis call for the addition of two stories, a central ramp to provide access to all levels, and new brick facades all around.
George McDevitt, dean of auxiliary services, said he offered the building to the city for temporary use as a homeless shelter, but the city did not need it. He said the university is making it available to the contemporary art museum until work is ready to begin on the $3.5 million garage.
"It was a fortuitous arrangement," Mr. McDevitt said. "They have a beautiful concept. It's to our advantage and the community's advantage to have it."
The auto showroom is the third abandoned building that the roving museum has transformed in the past two years, and the second such location related to transportation.
Previous exhibits were held in the Famous Ballroom in the 1700 block of North Charles Street and the former Greyhound service terminal at Park Avenue and Centre Street.
Mr. Ciscle said the old dealership is the best-equipped of the three. "We have both heat and electricity this time. We have all the amenities."