Waiting continues for landmark President Street: The restoration of the 1852 train station was set to be finished by April, but it hasn't started.

Urban Landscape

February 08, 1996|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

WHEN preservationists gathered inside Baltimore's historic President Street train station more than a year ago to mark the start of a $950,000 restoration, they expected all work to be complete by April 1996 -- the 135th anniversary of a famous Civil War riot that occurred near the site.

But with less than three months to go until the projected opening date, the 1852 landmark is still a boarded-up shell. A contractor hasn't been hired.

"Nothing has happened," Stanton Collins, head of the Friends of President Street, a private that group formed to restore the train station, lamented last month. "We're not getting anywhere. We're getting really concerned."

State transportation officials say the delay soon could be over, if Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke agrees to allocate additional state funds for the project. Mr. Schmoke said last week that he was not aware there was a problem.

"It does surprise me that, if they were that concerned about it, they didn't come to me," the mayor said.

Located near President and Fleet streets and owned by the city of Baltimore, the station is the oldest surviving big-city depot in the United States. When restored, it is to be a key element of Inner Harbor East, the $350 million waterfront community proposed for a 20-acre parcel between the Inner Harbor and Little Italy.

The Greek Revival building will be turned into a Civil War and transportation museum projected to draw 75,000 to 100,000 visitors a year. Part of the exhibit area will focus on the most significant event associated with the station, a riot between Northern troops and Southern sympathizers on April 19, 1861, that led to the first casualties of the Civil War, at least nine civilians and three soldiers.

The restoration was to be funded with the help of a $495,000 "enhancement" grant allocated in 1992 by Maryland's Department of Transportation. That figure had been matched by private contributions and in-kind services from the city when a groundbreaking ceremony was held on Jan. 10, 1995.

Construction did not begin immediately because bids for the key contract came in way over budget, said Shawn Cunningham, managing director of the B&O Railroad Museum, which is overseeing the restoration effort for the city.

The lowest bid was $647,000 -- $147,000 more than the $500,000 budgeted, he said.

City officials decided to go back to the state for more funds before hiring a contractor. The source of money was the Intermodal Surface Transportation Act (ISTEA), which supports preservation of transportation-related buildings and other "enhancement" projects.

President Street Station was one of four city projects vying for more than $1.5 million in ISTEA funds from the state committee that met last month. In all, $179,100 was requested for President Street Station; $400,000 to restore the car shop at the B&O Railroad Museum; $750,000 for brick sidewalks and lighting near Federal Hill Park; and $250,000 for archaeological excavations at Carroll Park.

Funding committee members decided to award $600,000 for the Baltimore projects, but "felt it would be best to let the city decide" exactly how the money should be divided, said Lisa Shenkle, deputy director of public affairs for the state transportation department.

If the Schmoke administration wants to give $179,100 to President Street Station, "the money is now there for that," she said.

Victor Bonaparte, deputy city director of planning, said his office will review all four projects and make a recommendation to the mayor as soon as possible.

Mr. Collins said he's anxious for a positive decision. "We want to be up and running for the city's Bicentennial" in 1997, he said.

But "our contractor won't keep his bid in place too much longer. If we don't move ahead soon, our support is going to evaporate," he said.

Old Odorite building gets another reprieve

The former Odorite building at Mount Royal and Maryland avenues, saved from the wrecker's ball several years ago by former Gov. William Donald Schaefer but never fixed up, has received another reprieve.

The Elizabethan Tudor style building, built in 1916 as a car showroom and now owned by the state, will be occupied for the next year by Roy Kirby and Sons, general contractor for a $2.4 million addition to the Lyric Opera House on the next block. Kirby will use the Odorite building as its construction office while work proceeds on the Lyric addition, which will contain offices for the Baltimore Opera Co., rehearsal rooms and other back-of-the-house spaces.

The two-story building still needs a permanent use and would be an ideal headquarters for Baltimore's Midtown Community Benefits District, which will serve the Mount Vernon and Bolton Hill neighborhoods. University of Baltimore President H. Mebane Turner, who arranged for Kirby to use the building, warned that a total renovation could cost $1 million to $1.5 million and that the state does not have funds to pay for that work.

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