Options listed for failed hall 2 Assembly panels weigh future of exploration area

Court receiver has last say

Columbus Center

August 05, 1998|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

A report commissioned by two General Assembly committees on the debt-laden and partly empty Columbus Center suggests uses ranging from a museum school for schoolchildren to an outreach center dealing with ports and other urban waterways.

In a hearing scheduled for today, the House Committee on Appropriations and the Senate Committee on Budget and Taxation will discuss the report, which was drafted by the state Department of Business and Economic Development, the University System of Maryland, and the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute.

The report, which was requested by the committees in March, may be of little relevance now that the Columbus Center is in court-appointed receivership, which is similar to bankruptcy.

Howard A. Rubenstein, an attorney with Adelberg Rudow Dorf Hendler & Sameth LLC, was appointed receiver by a Baltimore circuit judge.

It is his responsibility to decide who will occupy the vacant third of the Columbus Center or whether the entire center should be taken over.

The intention for the $160 million center, which is on the pier just east of the National Aquarium, was to develop it into a major Inner Harbor tourist attraction.

But the Hall of Exploration, an interactive marine science center, opened in May 1997 and closed seven months later after drawing 70,000 of a projected 280,000 visitors.

The center's estimated $7.5 million in debts include $2.5 million to NationsBank, $2.3 million to the city, $1 million to the University of Maryland and $1.2 million to vendors.

The University System's 49-year lease for two-thirds of the building provides space for the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute's Center for Marine Biotechnology.

The report's suggestions for the closed Hall of Exploration include:

A museum school linked to a school program.

Allowing the Center of Marine Biotechnology to take over the hall.

Using the hall to house and expand the Downtown Baltimore Center, a University System of Maryland satellite campus.

Development of a training and outreach center dealing with waterways in urban areas, such as ports, and coastal management.

Prospective candidates for the space must be nonprofit research or educational organizations, ruling out restaurants and retail outlets, Rubenstein said. The University System is among the contenders, he said.

"There could be an option to turn [the center] over to the University System, but we want to make sure we get all available options before making that decision," Rubenstein said.

"Several groups have contacted me, and we're going to decide as expeditiously as we can without foreclosing on any options," he said. No decision is likely for several months, he said.

University System officials said there was a chance they would assume responsibility for the operation of the center if additional funds could be found.

"Our interest is in insuring the viability of the Center of Marine Biotechnology," said John Lippincott, a spokesman for the University System.

Pub Date: 8/05/98

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