MCI is giving $2 million to Port Discovery Children's museum is on track to open on time in Nov. 1998

$21.5 million collected so far

'Showing kids how technology can be applied is so critical'

Inner Harbor

March 24, 1997|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,SUN STAFF

MCI Communications Corp. is donating $2 million to the Port Discovery, pushing funding for the children's museum past the $20 million mark.

The gift -- one of the larger corporate donations to a Baltimore attraction -- is to be announced this morning at a City Hall press conference with Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. It puts the $29 million museum on a pace to open as scheduled by November 1998, its leaders said.

MCI's donation is particularly welcome for Port Discovery, the nonprofit museum that is to open inside the Fishmarket on Market Place. In the aftermath of the departure of numerous major corporations, fund-raising has become increasingly difficult and the museum has cast its net wider in hopes of attracting dollars from outside Baltimore.

"Having an international corporation of this stature coming to the museum says something about [MCI's] belief in [its value] to Baltimore, and to kids and families throughout the country," said Kathy Dwyer Southern, Port Discovery's executive director. "And this gift is absolutely critical to our sense of momentum and working toward our commitment of opening in November 1998."

Fund-raising, led by Port Discovery Chairman Douglas Becker, president of Sylvan Learning Systems Inc., has been extraordinarily successful so far.

Becker launched a $15 million capital campaign a year ago by donating $1 million, mainly from revenues generated by Sylvan, his educational services company. Since then, the museum has received about $13 million from public and private sources, for a total of $21.5 million.

Of that total, $8 million has come from the state (including $4 million to be spent over four years); $7.2 million has come from corporations; $4.1 million from the city; $1.2 million from foundations; and $1 million from individual donors.

The latest donation comes from MCI's philanthropic arm, MCI Foundation.

The gift ties in with key goals of the Washington-based telecommunications giant because the museum will provide educational fare for potential customers.

"Look, if you're to be committed to the future, you got to be committed to two things: technology and children, and what a great opportunity to combine the two," said Timothy F. Price, MCI president and chief operating officer.

"Showing kids how technology can be applied is so critical to the future when you have the kind of goals we have," Price said. "In the kind of business we have, we feel like we ought to be ahead, and that's why we're doing this."

Glendening and Schmoke, in separate statements, both praised the MCI gift as an example of melding business interests and education -- in this case, it is hoped, masquerading as entertainment.

The Walt Disney-designed museum will blend high-tech exhibits with education and lessons about life and technology 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 and follow-up reading. Beyond becoming a big draw for out-of-towners, state, city and museum leaders view it as an important catalyst in revitalizing the area east of the harbor.

They envision restaurants, shops, other businesses and a steady stream of pedestrians around the largely vacated Market Place, where the Fishmarket and the neighboring Brokerage entertainment complexes failed in the late 1980s.

The Columbia-based Rouse Co. serves as Port Discovery's development manager, and Walt Disney Imagineering, the corporate giant's design arm, is designing and building the $12 million in exhibits.

Pub Date: 3/24/97

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