Aquarium seeks Columbus hall

Hall of Exploration on Pier 5 might serve as animal-care unit

Cordish would add garage

Inner Harbor

February 05, 2000|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

The National Aquarium in Baltimore is considering taking over the Columbus Center's Hall of Exploration, the failed Inner Harbor marine biology attraction that closed more than two years ago after only seven months of operation.

Since it closed, a variety of businesses have considered using the Hall of Exploration space, but discussions between aquarium officials and the University System of Maryland, which owns the center, began in earnest late last year, according to a spokeswoman for the aquarium.

The space at the Pier 5 attraction would be used for an animal-care facility, according to Jill Galloway, an aquarium spokeswoman.

"We have been holding discussions with the aquarium for quite some time," said Judy Phair, vice president for institutional advancement at the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute, which manages Columbus Center and occupies about 70 percent of its space.

"Those discussions continue," Phair said. "It certainly would seem to be a good fit. Certainly UMBI and the University System of Maryland seek uses of space that integrate science, research and education."

Any agreement would be subject to approval by the University System of Maryland's Board of Regents.

This is not the first time the aquarium has looked into occupying that Hall of Exploration space.

In December 1997, when the 46,000-square-foot Hall of Exploration closed, aquarium officials said they had looked closely at taking control of that space at the request of the Columbus Center. But David M. Pittenger, executive director, said at the time that he did not think taking over the exhibit space would help fulfill the aquarium's strategic plan. He noted expansion plans as the main reason that the aquarium was not in a position to take over that space.

At that time, he said: "We did not feel we could take over the Hall of Exploration or run it, either in its current mode or after modifying it. We looked at the practical realities of operating a 30,000- to 40,000-square-foot exhibit space, and it didn't make sense in terms of our long-range plan."

He had said that the aquarium didn't need large exhibit space as much as smaller specialized space for rotating exhibits.

The aquarium already uses a small amount of space in the Columbus Center for water-quality and medical testing labs.

Pittenger could not be reached yesterday.

Next to the Columbus Center, the Cordish Co. is proposing a multilevel parking garage to help alleviate parking problems in the Inner Harbor. David Cordish, chairman of the Cordish Co., wants to build a 500-space garage off Pratt Street, between the Columbus Center and Scarlett Place.

The proposed garage would replace a surface lot, and would be expected to serve downtown employees and tourists.

The estimated cost of the project will depend on whether tax incentives are granted.

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