Proposed Mount Royal arts center faces an uncertain future


November 10, 1994|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun Staff Writer

While the identity of Maryland's next governor probably will be known after absentee ballots are counted today, the fate of a key redevelopment project for Baltimore is likely to remain uncertain much longer.

A $60 million performing arts center planned for state-owned land in the Mount Royal cultural center will need strong support from the governor-elect if it is to be built, as envisioned, with a combination of state, city and private funds.

Neither Republican candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey nor Democrat Parris N. Glendening has taken a position on the two-theater project proposed for 901 N. Howard St.

But many involved in planning for it believe Mr. Glendening is more likely than Mrs. Sauerbrey to make state funds available to help build it.

Mr. Glendening has made inquiries about the performing arts center and other redevelopment proposals pending for Baltimore, according to city and state officials. Last weekend, he sent a representative to a workshop on downtown development, whereas Mrs. Sauerbrey did not.

As Prince George's County executive, Mr. Glendening favored a $99 million performing arts center that will soon be built in College Park, and his county committed $10 million to help construct it.

Such signs of support, combined with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's early endorsement of Mr. Glendening, make planners in Baltimore hopeful that the Democrat would be open to the idea of a new performing arts center for Howard Street.

Running on a platform of cutting taxes and trimming the state budget, Mrs. Sauerbrey has sent no such signals.

However, a 24 percent cut in personal taxes over four years does not necessarily translate to withdrawal of support for new capital projects in Baltimore, said deputy communications director Virginia Hume.

"All this speculation about massive slashing and cutting of the budget" is unwarranted, she said.

The state has commissioned an $80,000 feasibility study to determine whether the center is needed and what impact it would have on other theaters.

Preliminary findings are "favorable" to the project, but a final report won't be ready for several weeks, said Ronald Kreitner, director of the state Office of Planning.

Uncertainty surrounding the project's funding and political support has contributed to a delay in announcing the results of C design competition held earlier this year to select an architect.

After spending months deliberating over four entries, a five-member jury has given top ranking to a design by Rafael Vinoly Architects of New York.

Mr. Vinoly proposed three glass-clad cubes -- two theaters and a restaurant -- clustered around a circular plaza. One hall would line up with the street grid of Mount Vernon, while the other would line up with the streets of Bolton Hill. The composition was cleverly designed to include the neighboring Meyerhoff Symphony Hall as an implied fourth element.

In a written summary, the judges indicated Mr. Vinoly's plan represents the most persuasive urban design strategy for the 5.8-acre site and "may well result in an exciting cultural center." But they said the performing spaces still need "a great deal of development."

Ranked second was a design by Antoine Predock of Albuquerque, N.M., and Ayers Saint Gross of Baltimore. They proposed a crystalline mountain -- an "urban chandelier" -- that the judges predicted would be a "signature building for Baltimore." But the judges also expressed concern about "the scale of the scheme relative to the Meyerhoff" and "the appropriateness of this form in this area."

Ranked third was a proposal by Lett/Smith Architects of Toronto. Fourth was a design from Arata Isozaki & Associates of Tokyo, Design Collective of Baltimore, and Martha Schwartz of Boston.

Hope Quackenbush, a member of the jury and head of a private group seeking to build the center, said the rankings were very close. "It was really one-one-one-one."

The rankings don't necessarily mean that Mr. Vinoly will get to design the center. When the competition was announced last fall, sponsors reserved the right not to hire any of the finalists for a variety of reasons, including lack of money. At this point, an architect probably won't be hired unless legislators allocate design funds next year.

Nevertheless, it is a coup for Mr. Vinoly, who won a prestigious 1989 competition to design the $1 billion Tokyo International Forum, which will have four theaters when completed in 1996. Mr. Vinoly was born in Uruguay. His firm has offices in New York; Tokyo; and Buenos Aires, Argentina, and he has designed a wide range of urban projects, from office towers to sports centers.

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