New Downtown Center dedicated by Hopkins

Facility aims to draw business students from nearby firms

March 13, 2001|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

In a move that it hopes will increase its visibility and expand its reach downtown, the Johns Hopkins University dedicated its new $6.1 million Downtown Center yesterday.

Supporters of the center, which opened in January, view the glass-sheathed building as a key part of the ambitious renovation of the Charles Center area.

Hopkins already is seeing the impact of the new center, which houses the Graduate Division of Business Management and the School of Professional Studies in Business and Education.

A recent open house was jammed and enrollment is rising in its master's and certificate programs, largely aimed at people already in business.

"It's a reconfirmation of Hopkins' commitment to the downtown area and the city, and it brings our business programs right to the people we're trying to reach," said Ralph Fessler, dean of the School of Professional Studies in Business and Education.

The Downtown Center has grown substantially since its beginnings in 1987, when there were 375 students and just one master's degree program - in administrative science.

Today, almost three times as many students participate in five master's degree and seven certificate programs. The most popular is a master's degree in business administration that was created in 1999.

Hopkins is hoping the technologically advanced building at Charles and Fayette streets, two blocks south from its former location, will offer students a corporate learning environment similar to their own offices.

Each classroom is equipped for computerized presentations, with some having connections for laptop computers. Instead of desks, the rooms contain tables and chairs that can be moved to create a boardroom setting.

Every classroom has a multimedia station with a DVD player, VCR, document camera, LCD projector and Internet access.

"The new technology makes sense to our students because we're dealing for the most part with Generation X [those in their 20s through mid-30s] and that's what they're used to," said Pete Petersen, an interim associate dean and director of the school's business division. "It reinforces what they do at work and how they do things at work."

Supporters of the center also say the new building is a plus for Charles Center, which was the city's first urban renewal effort in the 1960s.

"It's a stunning building," said M. J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp. "It's part of a whole revamping and updating of Charles Center. It is all part of the fabric and sense of renewal."

The 35,000-square-foot structure was the flagship store of the old Hamburger's clothing chain until 1992. It was converted into a discount clothing store that eventually closed, becoming an eyesore in a key part of the business district.

In the mid-1990s, a subsidiary of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. bought the property, intending to use it for a chilled water plant.

That raised objections from other property owners, notably Peter G. Angelos, the majority owner of the Orioles who had just bought the adjacent One Charles Center tower. BG&E agreed to sell the property to Angelos after he threatened a court suit.

About that time, Hopkins was looking for a new home for its Downtown Center, then at Charles and Saratoga streets. The old center, into which the university moved in 1987, was half the size of the new building, tucked away from the street and had a leaky roof. Angelos agreed to lease the building to Hopkins and pledged $2.8 million to support the center.

While higher education experts say it's a way for many of the schools to bring in revenue, Hopkins officials say this isn't the case for its center. Whatever money the Downtown Center makes goes to programs there.

The center also is considering renting out areas of the building for events. It has an executive conference room and a 180-seat auditorium, and overlooks the downtown.

Hopkins already is celebrating the fruits of the new building, which is expected to attract 2,500 to 3,000 students a year. Although university officials say they weren't necessarily trying to attract more students this semester, 942 have enrolled - almost 100 more than in most semesters.

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