The fun starts May 3 at Columbus Center Debut: Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke announces plans for the grand opening May 3 of the Hall of Exploration, the final piece of the $160 million Columbus Center.

February 04, 1997|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,SUN STAFF

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke stood inside the gaping mouth of a gigantic striped bass at the Columbus Center's exhibit hall yesterday, then borrowed a line from his political ally in Washington, Bill Clinton.

"If there's an example of a bridge to the future," the mayor said, "it's this facility."

Schmoke, announcing plans for the May 3 grand opening of the center's high-tech fun house, the Hall of Exploration, said he's hopeful the president will take him up on the city's invitation to join thousands of others for the festivities.

"Only time will tell whether we have added another major tourist attraction, but I think we definitely have that possibility," Schmoke said.

The center will celebrate the Hall of Exploration's grand opening beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 3, with roving scientific demonstrations outside, live entertainment and gifts for those who enter the 46,000-square-foot exhibit hall beneath the signature white roof resembling a ship's sail.

Admission to the hall will be $7 for adults, $6 for seniors and $5 for children, center officials said yesterday, and initial hours will be Saturday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The weekend before the opening, a $125-a-ticket gala will kick off a week of grand opening events. Proceeds will benefit the Columbus Center's education programs.

Yesterday, amid the din of hammering and sawing, the larger-than-life exhibits began taking shape inside the hall, the final piece of the $160 million Columbus Center.

Here, visitors -- 400,000 are expected the first year -- will get glimpses of the marine world unlike any they've ever seen as they explore exhibits designed by Walt Disney Imagineering's Bran Ferren, a three-time Academy Award winner.

A walk through the striped bass' mouth will set off a motion sensor, starting a multimedia presentation showing bigger creatures devouring smaller ones.

Prefabricated boulders being bolted together will form a man-made mountain, with a cascading waterfall modeled after Cunningham Falls in Western Maryland.

A horseshoe crab stretching 75 feet from end to end will soon be a high-tech theater showing the depths of the sea, as experienced by a shark. A walk-through cell will offer a close-up look at its human likeness, magnified 3 million times.

The hall also will feature 48 interactive, multimedia workstations linked to a powerful Sun Microsystems computer network that will tailor visits to individual interests and knowledge and link visitors to Columbus Center scientists, references and the Internet.

Visitors will test water quality; spool DNA from fish cells; learn lessons about viruses, cells, microbes that could spare oysters; clean oil spills; detect pollution.

Stanley Heuisler, president and chief executive of Columbus Center Development Inc., joined Schmoke and other Columbus Center leaders in marveling at the exhibits yesterday.

'We've done it again'

"For the city, the theme of the grand opening is, 'We've done it again,' " Heuisler said.

"You know, the city that gave you the first great aquarium, the city that gave you the first great festival marketplace, the city that gave you the first great modern historic ballpark is now the city that gave you the first great knowledge-based development project and tourist attraction," he said.

Research space actually makes up 80 percent of the entire Columbus Center, at the Center for Marine Biotechnology and the Science and Technology Education Center.

The research focuses on the study of the biology of the ocean's plants and animals and is expected to yield discoveries leading to new medicines and commercial products, as well as considerable economic spinoff.

The exhibit hall is expected to pump some $11 million in related spending into the city's economy and employ about 200 people, the center projected yesterday.

Pub Date: 2/04/97

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