Port Discovery Taps Disney

March 29, 1995

By tapping Walt Disney Imagineering to design interactive exhibits for Port Discovery, the $25 million children's museum in Baltimore has bought its ambitious venture instant credibility. In the world of make-believe, nothing has matched Disney's record of consistent success.

"This is world-class, this is not just another attraction," a beaming Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke declared at a press conference where the Disney contract was announced. He said he hopes that when the new museum opens in 1997 it means "an extra day that people will want to stay in town."

The involvement of Disney and the Rouse Co. in transforming the boarded-up Fishmarket into a kids' fantasyland means that even skeptics must take the project seriously. It was Rouse, after all, that helped turn the Inner Harbor into a major tourist attraction with Harborplace.

But while specialty retailing has proven quite successful at that two-pavilion festival marketplace and at the nearby Galley at Harborplace, entertainment has been a losing proposition so far at the Inner Harbor. An indoor urban amusement park inside the cavernous Power Plant struggled for a while and closed. So did a mall of music bars, which was briefly tried at the Fishmarket.

The future of the Power Plant is still a question mark. But Port Discovery will give a new lease on life for the 90-year-old Fishmarket building.

Disney's role will be limited to planning and building. Neither its name nor its famous characters will be part of Port Discovery. The non-profit museum will be an educational institution but also a lot of fun for kids of all ages.

With the Columbus Center for Marine Biotechnology approaching completion (its main exhibit hall was also designed by the chief Disney imagineer) and the City Life Museums expanding, the east side of the Inner Harbor is getting substantial attractions that ought to finally turn it into a viable tourism area. In that mix of education and entertainment, Port Discovery will be a splendid fit.

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