$3 million for kids

March 09, 1994

"The timing was perfect," said Susan Keating, president of NationsBank Maryland. Indeed, it was.

NationsBank was looking to make a bold statement about its commitment to the community as it absorbs the venerable Maryland National Bank, which it acquired last year.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Children's Museum was looking to move from the Cloisters, a Gothic castle tucked away in Baltimore County, to a more visible spot near the bustling Inner Harbor.

This convergence of desires led to a $3 million donation from the North Carolina-based financial institution, its largest single gift ever, to the children's museum effort. The contribution matches part of a $5 million state government grant to the project, which organizers estimate will need $30 million to get off the ground in two years. As important as the dollars themselves is the fact that the project now has the expressed support of a major corporation that isn't likely to let this worthwhile undertaking flounder.

The plan is part of an effort to stretch the bounds of the successful downtown tourist district. In the way that Oriole Park at Camden Yards has drawn tourists and business to the west side of downtown, it is hoped that a revival of the all-but-dead Brokerage complex with a family-oriented mix of culture and commerce will energize the area northeast of the harbor. The continuing erasure of the Block, the strip-club district that bumps and grinds but a stone's throw away, is also vital to the success of this undertaking.

Along with broadening the tourist area, this project aims to go beyond the typical museum clientele. It doesn't want to serve only well-heeled households from the suburbs; its goal is also to draw in poorer families who might live close by, but for whom the Inner Harbor's glittery offerings are a world away. The admission-fee scale will accommodate all, the organizers promise. Exhibits will be designed to teach children about problem-solving and resolving conflicts peacefully.

The ceremony last week to rename the area in front of the future museum "NationsBank Plaza" featured an angel-voiced choir from the Howard County schools and a mural painted by children from the city's Charles Carroll of Carrollton School. It was a mosaic of the elementary schoolers as they saw themselves: all bright, shining faces exuding self-esteem. To the extent that this project can help life imitate art, it will be an invaluable investment for the region.

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