Building Fever in the Southwest

June 18, 1994|By ANTERO PIETILA

Next time you go to Oriole Park, walk up a few blocks to the campus of the University of Maryland at Baltimore. And be amazed by all the changes.

The nine-story Homer Gudelsky Patient Tower, carrying an $85 million price tag, is nearing completion at the northwest corner of Lombard and Greene streets. It will open in September. Across the street, work will begin next year on a new state-of-the-arts medical library.

Meanwhile, a new $27 million health-science facility is scheduled to open by the end of the year. Nearby a former Hutzler department store warehouse is being rehabilitated into a high-tech research hub. . .

These are just some of the major projects on the campus which a few years ago adopted the trademark of ''UniversityCenter'' and is now emphasizing that image through such coordinated design touches as new lamps and landscaping. Dr. David J. Ramsay, the university's new president, described his mission as ''trying to develop on the campus much more of a sense of a campus.''

In its expansion in recent years, the university has been building to fill in gaps in its core area. ''There is enough campus property available to expand buildings until at least 2000, maybe beyond that,'' says Robert Tennenbaum, a university architect. ''The only direction we can logically go long-term is east,'' he adds, referring to a number of vacant or underused buildings between the university, Lexington Market and the Baltimore Arena. Those buildings conceivably could house more laboratory space as well as start-up and incubator companies.

This future thrust worries the university's neighbors west of Martin Luther King Boulevard. Separated from the campus by a heavily traveled six-lane connector road, they wonder how more bTC of the university's faculty, staff and students could be attracted to such residential neighborhoods as Pigtown, Barre Circle, Little Lithuania and Hollins Market.

''How did this road become this giant Wall of China?'' wonders John Ott, director of the B&O Railroad Museum at the Mount Clare Yards.

His vision is a complex of museums that chronicle America's industrial development. There is talk about the Baltimore Streetcar Museum moving to Mount Clare. The Fire Museum of '' Maryland, currently in Lutherville, also has scouted for a new home there.

For long-term success Mr. Ott needs stability and improvement in the surrounding neighborhoods. He wants to see the University of Maryland behemoth as a partner: ''You can look at the university in two ways. It's either a 600-pound gorilla that does things its way or is a player in the community.''

UMAB will soon take a systematic look at the future housing needs of its campus. Since Dr. Ramsay seems to rule out constructing dormitories, this may provide more opportunities for neighborhoods like Pigtown.

The recent selection of Ryland Group to construct 113 new market-rate townhouses on vacant land along Scott Street has filled Pigtown activists with a new burst of energy and hope. A meeting last week drew the community's key players -- except for the university -- to discuss ways of revitalizing Washington Boulevard from Martin Luther King Boulevard to West Cross Street.

''At one time it was a very big commercial district that really symbolized the community,'' said Rodney Carroll, of Southwest Community Council. Today the stretch has many vacancies, suggesting an oversupply of commercial space.

Within the next few months, the Washington Boulevard task force hopes to develop a practical improvement program. It also wants to establish how many and what kinds of local businesses Pigtown's 6,500 residents would support.

Those residents are a varied lot.

The 141 rowhouses in Barre Circle, renovated by urban homesteaders in the 1970s, are occupied mostly by young professionals or students, as are many of the 44 houses of the Roundhouse Square development built across the street in 1988. The new Ryland homes, to be built next door, will be marketed to the same segment.

The streets beyond are a mixture of vandalized vacant buildings next door to well-kept homes. Some blocks along Washington Boulevard, the community's Main Street, are in particularly bad shape.

''The city and the neighborhood have to do something about crime,'' complains Hank Albarelli, of Baltimore Playwrights Theatre.

That theater, occupying an attractively reconstructed old laundry building at 908 Washington Boulevard, is one of Pigtown's hopes -- but has been broken into in its first few months of operation.

Antero Pietila writes editorials for The Baltimore Sun.

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