Zoo may exhibit at Columbus Center Live insect display considered for hall

December 19, 1997|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

Snakes, spiders and insects could be the next tenants of the Columbus Center's Hall of Exploration, the high-tech marine center that closed abruptly because it couldn't attract enough Inner Harbor's tourists.

The Baltimore Zoo is negotiating with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Columbus Center officials to open a live insect attraction that could lure tourists to the fledgling center.

Columbus Center officials have been scrambling to find a new tenant for the debt-ridden Hall of Exploration since it closed Monday.

"I like the idea of the zoo coming in to the Columbus Center," Schmoke said. "That would be my preference."

With the mayor's backing the Baltimore Zoo looks as if it would have a good chance at moving into the Columbus Center.

The future of the Columbus Center has been partly controlled by the mayor since last week when the center's previous leadership was swept out after the 7-month-old, $147 million Inner Harbor marine center couldn't cover its mounting debts.

A three-member board representing the state, the city and the University of Maryland was put into power to reverse its financial problems.

Moving into the Columbus Center would give the zoo added visibility and potentially many more visitors to its location in Druid Hill Park.

"It would be wonderful for the zoo to be able to reach out to that tourist audience and bring them into the city," said Roger Birkel, executive director of the Baltimore Zoo.

For the Columbus Center, the zoo would become the cash-paying tenant it desperately needs to pay for the research labs and educational programs that occupy the rest of the

building.

Talks are in preliminary stages, but the zoo's executive director met with Schmoke this week and plans to meet with the Columbus Center's board next week.

"If this is possible, we need to determine very quickly," Birkel said. "I would love to see it happen this summer."

Birkel's plan is to display an insect world that showcases several types of insects from around the globe. The plan would also include animals that feed on insects.

"These insect displays are great tourist draws," Birkel said.

Paula Dozier, spokeswoman for the Columbus Center, said yesterday that the Hall of Exploration will continue to feature its attractions for education groups until summer, including a walk-through cell and a man-made mountain.

The Hall of Exploration closing was one of the biggest flops at the Inner Harbor since the shuttering of the Baltimore Fish Market and the Power Plant in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The center's leadership badly overestimated the number of visitors to the Hall of Exploration.

Pub Date: 12/19/97

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