Children's museum may anchor kids' center

March 15, 1993|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

The group building the Baltimore's Children's Museum is exploring plans to make it the anchor for an even more ambitious development project: a children's center that would provide a wide range of services.

Baltimore Children's Museum, Inc. the nonprofit group planning the center, recently chose a multidisciplinary team headed by Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse of Baltimore to assess the economic feasibility of creating the museum and center.

The site under study is the Brokerage at the Inner Harbor, a three-acre, 280,000-square-foot complex of shops, offices and parking space bounded by Baltimore, Water and Frederick streets and Market Place.

There are 250 children's museums in the United States and 100 in other countries. If the local planners move ahead with their project, Baltimore would be the first city in the country to designate a children's district, with a children's museum as the centerpiece, said Katrine Fitzgerald, a spokeswomen for the American Association of Museums in Washington.

Besides a 50,000-square-foot museum, ideas under study for the center include:

* A wellness center where children could come for check-ups, immunization shots, dental care and other medical treatment;

* A counseling center for children recovering from sexual abuse, drug abuse or other problems.

* An early learning and development center for infants and toddlers whose parents live or work downtown.

* A latchkey program for older children who live in nearby Jonestown.

Planners also are exploring conversion of upper-level office space into a magnet for groups involved with national children's issues.

"We're trying to assess what other organizations or entities might be interested in combining resources" to rent space in the complex, said Janet Marie Smith, a volunteer with the children's museum and co-chairwoman of the selection panel that chose Struever Bros.

She said the idea of going beyond a museum was a response to the increased national focus on children's needs and issues brought about by the first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton; the Children's Defense Fund founder, Marian Wright Edelman; and other children's advocates.

"Children's issues are at the forefront of the nation's agenda right now, from child care to health issues to children's legal rights," she said.

"Most people hear 'children's museum' and think it'll be just another attraction, but we hope this will be much more than that," she said.

"You can't educate children until they are clothed and fed and well provided for."

Baltimore Development Corp., which oversees downtown development for the Schmoke administration, has played a role in the proposal, she said.

The city acquired the Brokerage complex this year from a Bank of America subsidiary, which sold the 276-space garage for $5 million and donated the rest. Part of the retail space is occupied by restaurants, such as Ruth's Chris Steak House and Fat Tuesday, but significant portions are vacant.

Baltimore Children's Museum Inc. is made up of board members of the city-owned Cloisters Museum, which will move from its location at 10440 Falls Road to the Brokerage, and a group that proposed several years ago to build the Maryland Children's Museum inside the Pier 4 Power Plant.

The Cloisters Museum will cease to operate once the new museum opens, and future plans for the Falls Road property are under study. Other members of the feasibility study team are the architectural firm of Cho, Wilks & Benn; Legg Mason Realty Group; and creative consultants Gary King and Ardice Faoro. The team will have 10 weeks to determine how the Brokerage might best be adapted to accommodate the proposed museum and children's center.

Museum planners also are looking to the Struever Bros. team to determine how much the project will cost and how construction might be funded. Board members have said they would like to firm up plans, raise money and begin construction in time to open the museum by early 1995.

Mr. Schmoke recently nominated a partner of Struever Bros., Daniel P. Henson III, to serve as Baltimore's next housing commissioner. Ms. Smith said the selection of Struever Bros. to conduct the feasibility study has no connection and was made before Mr. Henson was named.

Mr. Henson has resigned from the company and agreed not to be involved for two years in any decision involving a Struever Bros. project. He also sold his stock in Struever Bros. and sold his interest in all of the local development projects in which he had invested, as of Friday.

Bill Struever, head of Struever Bros., said the concept of a children's center fits well with the Schmoke administration's goals of providing services and programs for children from low-income families, such as those living in the Lafayette Courts public housing complex, as well as a place that would interest children from more affluent families.

One key to the success of the project, he said, will be finding ways to link it with neighboring institutions, such as the Baltimore City Life Museums, Baltimore City Community College, and even the Baltimore International Culinary College.

"If the children's museum is going to work, it has to be part of a whole nucleus of things," he said.

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