Inner Harbor without ships? Money trouble: As the Constellation departs for repairs, the Maritime Museum may sink.

June 27, 1996

AT THE END of the summer, the Constellation, the symbol of Inner Harbor renewal, will be removed for extensive repairs. And the Baltimore Maritime Museum may have to close, unless sufficient operating funds can be secured. All this at a time when the Schmoke administration, at least for public consumption, argues that tourism is the city's future growth industry.

Confused? No wonder. The Baltimore Maritime Museum inherited the Lightship Chesapeake and the World War II submarine Torsk from the city parks department and later added the Coast Guard Cutter Taney to its collection. Yet it does not even have a legal agreement on operating the vessels. This has made outside fund-raising difficult. Now the city, though it owns two of the ships, is discontinuing annual subsidies, blaming budget woes.

It can be argued that the three exhibit ships ended up here by happenstance and -- except for the Chesapeake -- have tenuous ties to Maryland's maritime history. But they are national historic landmarks and, with the exception of Fort McHenry, the most popular history venues in Baltimore. Why kill a good thing?

The crisis of the Maritime Museum is an opportunity to do something that has long been lacking: develop a master plan. Four other entities also operate educational ships that range from the Constellation and Baltimore-built World War II Liberty ship John W. Brown to the Museum of Industry's 1906 steam tugboat and a fleet of skipjacks and workboats run by the Living Classrooms Foundation. Moreover, a maritime center is being built in Fells Point to house the Maryland Historical Society's collection of artifacts.

It is time for these parties to get together and coordinate their efforts. Even before the current money crunch, the Maritime Museum had to postpone repairs on the three ships. This clearly is an invitation to disaster, as has been seen in the belated efforts to find money to keep the rotted Constellation afloat.

Baltimore's seafaring heritage is worth celebrating. It would be easier to celebrate, though, if the key attractions were concentrated at one or two locations, under an umbrella organization that had the mayor's full support.

Pub Date: 6/27/96

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