For the Young at Heart

December 30, 1992

Baltimore City has shrewedly positioned itself to take advantage of the next downtown boom by acquiring the Brokerage, a financially troubled office and retail center near the Inner Harbor.

Within the next two years, this largely vacant 280,000-square-foot complex of restaurants and boutiques is to be transformed into a museum extravaganza for the young and young at heart. A state-of-the-art children's museum will open there (replacing Cloisters in Brooklandville). A museum paying tribute to Eubie Blake, the Baltimore-born ragtime great, will be moved there from its current North Charles Street location.

If done right, this concentration of fun exhibits could energize an area that under previous development concepts never took off. The Fishmarket mall of bars is boarded up next door. Farther away, the Power Plant entertainment center is padlocked.

In another two years, the whole neighborhood could be different.

The Power Plant could be a high-tech sports museum and entertainment complex, as currently planned. The Metro extension, with a station just two blocks from the Brokerage, should be open. And if plans to clean up Baltimore Street proceed, much of the sleaze of The Block could be gone. In that scenario, a children's museum would be a perfect fit, with its on-site parking for 276 cars and easy access to the Jones Falls Expressway.

A successful children's museum at the Brokerage would be a drastic departure from the modest exhibits at the Cloisters. That fanciful castle was not suited for big crowds. The Brokerage, on the other hand, ought to be a people magnet. The children's exhibits must reflect that.

The Eubie Blake collection -- currently hidden in a basement -- should be similarly jazzed up. The present collection is only a starting point. More music, lights and special effects are needed and are possible in today's high-tech environment. Perhaps the scope ought to be broadened to include videos on tap-dancing and a mention of Billie Holiday. After all, she also hailed from

Baltimore.

Turning the Brokerage into a hypnotic attraction for local children as well as for visitors will be a challenge. Baltimore finally has an opportunity to develop a children's museum as attractive as those in San Francisco, Boston and Philadelphia.

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