$1 million gift launches museum campaign Port Discovery chairman is donor


March 06, 1996|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,SUN STAFF

Before asking others to shell out some $15 million for the Port Discovery Children's Museum, its chairman, Douglas Becker, has launched a fund-raising drive by donating $1 million.

Mr. Becker, also president of Sylvan Learning Systems Inc., said yesterday that he made the donation on behalf of "Friends of Sylvan," with the money coming mainly from him and his tutoring company.

He said he hopes the donation inspires others to follow suit to help foot the bill for the $27 million Port Discovery. The first children's museum to be designed by the creative wizards at Walt Disney Co. is to open inside the old Fishmarket Building on Market Place in 1998.

But in the wake of the departure of numerous major corporations from the city, fund-raising has become more difficult, Mr. Becker acknowledged.

"Clearly, this is a city that has some wonderful projects that deserve to be funded but doesn't really have the number of people stepping up to the plate to fund them as it once did," said Mr. Becker, whose Port Discovery chairmanship is an unpaid, voluntary position.

"What's left now is a core of an incredibly generous, supportive people who get, in essence, targeted for every single major capital campaign that comes along."

Though design work has been going on for nearly a year, Mr. Becker said he wanted to wait to formally kick off the capital campaign until he could make the strongest possible case for contribu- tions.

Now, he said, with preliminary plans and an economic impact analysis complete, he has no doubt the museum will meet the lofty expectations shared from City Hall to corporate boardrooms, hotels and restaurants.

"After all the other questions people ask, they're going to say, 'Well, Doug, if you believe in this, what are you doing?' Imagine how confident I have to be to go to my company, my key shareholders, my own resources."

Mr. Becker pointed out that a new analysis of the museum's economic impact, based on 750,000 annual visitors, predicted that it would contribute some $45 million a year to the economy. It also would result in creation of nearly 1,000 jobs, 93 of them at the museum, according to the analysis, by Hunter Interests Inc., an Annapolis economics firm.

Thus far, about $8.5 million of the $27 million has been raised, including city and state money and $3 million from NationsBank.

Disney's design work notwithstanding, Port Discovery will have nothing to do with Mickey Mouse. Rather, the museum is to blend Disney-style, high-tech exhibits with education and lessons about life to provide family-oriented entertainment. A computerized "Buddy System," for example, will enable the museum to customize each exhibit according to visitors' tastes, suggest routes through the museum, visits to other city attractions, follow-up reading.

The museum is viewed as a central part of the effort to spread Baltimore's tourism center beyond the Inner Harbor. The Fishmarket nightclub complex and the neighboring Brokerage both failed in the late 1980s, and the city has sought to revitalize the Market Place area ever since.

Pub Date: 3/06/96

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