A Beacon of Learning

January 01, 1995

In 1968, when the I.M. Pei-designed World Trade Center was built, Inner Harbor renewal was still just a gleam in planners' eyes. Since then, the pentagonal tower at water's edge has become one of the defining architectural elements of the downtown Baltimore skyline. Because of an observation deck on the 27th floor, it is also a popular tourist attraction.

Last night, after some controversy involving amateur astronomers and ornithologists, this state-owned office tower was turned into a story-book candle with the help of new lighting. Meanwhile, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has given the go-ahead for a multi-million-dollar renovation of the observation deck. It will be transformed into a dazzling "urban geography" museum, telling residents and visitors the story of Baltimore's development.

There will be innovations like "talking telescopes" that explain to people what they see when they angle a telescope in a certain direction. Along with high-tech exhibits, they will provide visitors with a knowledge base for further excursions.

"It's going to be a world-class attraction," says National Geographic Society vice president Dale Petrovsky. "It will show, from a wonderful vantage point in Baltimore, how the city grew and why. It's a very creative approach."

"You can celebrate how the city has changed over time," adds city promotions chief Bill Gilmore. "Most people haven't had an opportunity to understand that Baltimore evolved because of its geography." That's why it became so pre-eminent in early American railroading. That's why its port has always been a giant economic engine.

If the observation deck's aging, static exhibits could draw 175,000 paying visitors a year, this new concept has all the potential of becoming a much bigger winner. That's good for everyone: The city will get badly-needed revenue, while visitors will get knowledge and understanding.

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