Hippodrome: a linchpin for west side renaissance

February 17, 1999|By David J. Ramsay

THE UNIVERSITY of Maryland, Baltimore, has occupied the same site since 1807 as the founding campus of the University of Maryland.

With new buildings and programs, the university has played a pivotal role in the rebirth of the west side of downtown. But problems crying out for urban renewal lie between the eastern borders of our campus and downtown.

Our neighborhood's complete rebirth is not possible without more redevelopment. And that will only occur with investment in projects that serve as catalysts, such as the Hippodrome Theater.

As the Hippodrome's owner, the university has an obvious stake in its renovation as a regional performing arts center by the Maryland Stadium Authority. But our interest goes well beyond what happens to that property. Just as the university was a linchpin for a west side renaissance, the Hippodrome plays a similar role in our initiatives.

A master plan

The university's master plan calls for growth north and east toward Charles Center. The university has acquired properties in the vicinity of the Hippodrome in the 500 block of W. Fayette St., and several buildings along Redwood Street.

The university is not, as a recent Sun editorial stated, in talks to buy both sides of the 400 block of W. Baltimore St., which abuts the Hippodrome. Over the years, we have had discussions with several property owners on West Baltimore Street, but those conversations began years before talk of the Hippodrome's renewal.

Careful planning

As a public institution, the university's negotiations with property owners are conducted by the Maryland Department of General Services. The process for the university to acquire property takes time and requires several levels of city and state approval.

We cannot obtain whole city blocks expeditiously. We proceed carefully, with the intent to preserve the goodwill of our community.

Our campus is a unique community in its own right. With our partner, the University of Maryland Medical System, we are among the city's largest employers. Nearly 6,000 students attend our seven schools; an average of 25,000 people visit, study, work, conduct research, teach and receive care on the 25-acre campus.

Also, our students are not undergraduates who require dormitory rooms. They are professionals pursuing graduate degrees in health, biomedical science, law and social work who live in the community.

Unfortunately, only a fraction of them live downtown. We estimate that between 900 and 2,000 additional apartments could be filled by students and employees who would like to live downtown but don't now.

Obviously, a neighborhood's amenities are a factor in helping people decide where to live. Who would not be drawn to the cultural attractions, restaurants, cafes and stores the Hippodrome would spawn?

Discussions are continuing about finding a suitable urban location for the $32 million new police training center. Where better than in the west side redevelopment area?

During this legislative session, many of the organizations working collaboratively will respond to Gov. Parris N. Glendening and legislators' inquiries about financial estimates for restoring the Hippodrome.

We believe their questions will be satisfactorily answered. They will see the Weinberg Foundation's $71 million proposal to rehabilitate the venerable Stewart's department store building -- four blocks from the Hippodrome -- into high-tech offices and to build apartments, retail space and a parking garage. Also, there's a proposal to rehabilitate the nearby Hecht Co. parking garage as part of a plan to convert the former department store into apartments. And a 151-unit apartment complex is being constructed atop a garage on Eutaw Street.

The Hippodrome's restoration places emphasis on a statement about the vision for redevelopment of downtown's west side.

The University of Maryland pledges to play its part in this exciting renaissance.

David J. Ramsay is president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

Pub Date: 2/17/99

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