Arts center jury stymied in search for an architect

April 07, 1994|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun Staff Writer

Four months after launching a national design competition to choose an architect for a $60 million performing arts center in midtown Baltimore, a local group known as the Friends of the Performing Arts says it is unable to select a winner without more information from the finalists.

Representatives for the non-profit arts group notified the four contestants last week that it was unable to rank them based on the design concepts presented Feb. 22.

The notification means none of the four teams will immediately get to negotiate a contract to design the two-theater complex planned for the former Baltimore Life Insurance Co. property at 901 N. Howard St.

It also means none have been eliminated.

All of the designs had features that the jury liked, but none of them satisfied "all of the criteria that jury was reviewing for," said Ron Kreitner, director of the Maryland Office of Planning and one of the six jurors.

As a result, he said, the jury decided it could not rank the design proposals and recommended that the project's planners enter into further discussions with all four. The notification letter asks competitors if they would be interested in participating in those follow-up discussions.

One possibility, Mr. Kreitner said, would be to start a second round of the design competition, using the jury's reactions to the competitors' initial proposals as a starting point.

Hope Quackenbush, head of the Friends of the Performing Arts and another juror, said she could envision ways to combine various features of the different proposals to come up with one ideal composite. She said her group will not consider design teams other than the four already involved.

"If I could take elements of each one, it would be the most perfect performing arts center in the world," she said this week at a meeting of the Mayor's Commission on Tourism, Entertainment and Culture.

The finalists are groups headed by architects Antoine Predock, Arata Isozaki, Rafael Vinoly and a Toronto-based firm called Lett/Smith. None could be reached this week to comment on the letters.

As part of the state's operating budget for fiscal 1995, the General Assembly this week approved $150,000 to begin design work for the performing arts center. The sponsors originally had requested $250,000, a figure that was deleted by the Senate and restored by the House. In a conference committee meeting, the final figure was set at $150,000.

Mr. Kreitner said that action was "a very encouraging step" for the Friends of the Performing Arts.

"It essentially establishes the legislature's interest in the project and requires us to report back to them on the feasibility of it and how it can be accomplished," he said. "That's a good position to be in."

In a policy statement, the budget committees directed the Maryland Office of Planning and the state's Department of Economic and Employment Development to spend the $150,000 to "study the feasibility of a performing arts center in Baltimore."

The state agencies were asked to consult with "the City of Baltimore, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Lyric Opera House, the Maryland Institute of Art, the Friends of the Performing Arts Inc. and all other appropriate performing arts groups."

The legislators want a preliminary report back by Oct. 1.

The performing arts center is planned as a new home for the Baltimore Center for the Performing Arts, a non-profit agency that now uses the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre in Charles Center, and other arts groups.

It is also seen by the Schmoke administration as a way to revitalize the Mount Royal cultural center and to help make the Howard Street corridor an "avenue of the arts." A construction timetable would depend on the findings of the feasibility study and the pace of fund-raising.

Models of the four designs are on public display in the offices of the Baltimore Development Corp., 25 S. Charles St., Suite 1600, during office hours.

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