Rouse Co. pledges $300,000 for restoration of Constellation Gift kicks off bid to raise donations for ship's repair

November 02, 1995|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

The Rouse Co. pledged $300,000 this week toward the $9 million restoration of the Constellation, the historic but deteriorating 1854 sloop of war that long has been the centerpiece of Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

The Columbia-based company's gift to the Constellation Foundation launches a campaign to raise $3 million from corporations, philanthropies and other private donors. The warship's board hopes to raise most of that by spring to allow the Civil War relic to be towed to a Locust Point dry dock for two years of repairs.

Time is running out. The warship's leaks worsened after the summer's severe drought dried its planks and opened its seams.

Louis F. Linden, executive director of the foundation, called the Rouse donation "the keys to the kingdom. Everybody in the business community has asked, 'What's the Rouse Co. going to do?' because they're the people who are perceived as being the most affected."

The Rouse Co. built the Inner Harbor's $16 million Harborplace pavilions in 1980 to overlook the harbor and the Constellation.

"Obviously the Constellation has always been an important part of the fabric of the Inner Harbor and downtown Baltimore, and the Rouse Co. is very committed to both," said Duke Kassolis, Rouse's executive vice president.

The rescue of the Constellation is expected to cost $9 million, of which $1.8 million would be set aside as an endowment for continuing conservation.

In addition to the $3 million in private sector donations, the ship's board hopes to raise $3 million from a city bond issue, to be voted on next year, and $3 million from the General Assembly. The legislature has approved $500,000 and will be asked for the rest in the next three years.

Mr. Linden said the first $2 million in private sector gifts would cover the first 48 weeks of repairs, carrying the work beyond the city bond issue vote.

Mr. Linden said he is confident voters will "do what needs to be done." He estimated that almost $3 million in labor costs associated with the project will be paid to area residents.

The foundation is operating on a $190,000 loan from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The Constellation is the last all-sail warship built for the Navy. It fought slave traders off West Africa, and a slave ship it captured in those waters in May 1861 was the first Union capture of a Confederate vessel of the Civil War.

A Navy inspection in 1993 found that the ship was deteriorated badly by age and rot. Its coffers empty, the ship was closed to tourists, and its board was forced out and replaced.

Navy crews in May strengthened the hull with steel cable and nylon bands to buy time while the ship awaits repairs.

Over the summer, the drought dried the ship's planks and opened its seams.

"When the first rain came, it was raining just as hard below, on the gun deck, as it was on the outside. I just wanted to sit down and cry," Mr. Linden said. Bilge pumping rates more than doubled.

The leaks have since slowed, "but we still have much greater freshwater infiltration," he said. To combat rot, the decks have been treated with salt, which inhibits the growth of bacteria and mold.

Leaks below the waterline also worsened. "We spent about a week spotting, as best we could, exactly where the leaks were coming from," Mr. Linden said. A diver applied sawdust, caulk and patches, slowing the leaks.

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