Top of the World redone for an even better look

World Trade Center observation level will reopen June 2

May 24, 2001|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

The Top of the World observation level has just undergone a half-million-dollar renovation designed to boost the number of visitors to the 22-year-old Inner Harbor attraction and enhance its potential as a tool for economic development and tourism.

The 27th floor of the World Trade Center, which was closed in March for improvements, will reopen June 2 with free admission and entertainment. Its updated look includes new finishes for the floor, walls and ceiling; new heating, cooling, lighting and sound systems; and a facility that is fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Now, you get off the elevators and you just have this sweeping view," said Bill Gilmore, executive director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion.

The space has been cleared of exhibits, enhancing the view through the glass walls, which are free of frames or metal bars between the panes.

About 135,000 people visited in 2000, a number Gilmore said he would like to raise to 250,000 annually within 18 months. Attendance was about 127,300 in 1999 and 141,500 in 1998, according to numbers provided by the Baltimore Office of Promotion.

The I. M. Pei-designed World Trade Center opened its public observation floor in 1979, offering spectacular views of the Baltimore skyline and port. In those early days, it was among a small number of attractions at the Inner Harbor, along with the Maryland Science Center and the Constellation.

"It was used a lot for economic development," Gilmore said. "We really want the facility to be used again for economic development. We want Carroll Armstrong [president and chief executive officer of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association] to bring a meeting planner up there and show them how close the hotels are to the convention center, how close the stadiums are to the hotels. I think maybe we weren't doing a good job of marketing it that way."

The observation level's 10,000 square feet of space was not very flexible or usable - an obstacle that the renovation was intended to overcome, Gilmore said.

Photographs of the city as it appeared from the 1880s to the turn of the 20th century will eventually line the walls.

Renovation was financed by admissions and contributions from local partners, including BACVA, Baltimore Development Corp., Downtown Partnership, Greater Baltimore Alliance, Greater Baltimore Committee, Maryland Department of Transportation, Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, and Maryland Port Administration.

The goal is to hold admission prices to $4 for adults, $3 for seniors and $2 for children. "We're trying to keep prices there so it becomes a nice part of the Inner Harbor package," Gilmore said. "It's a natural to bring people there and give them an overview."

Wooden benches will offer visitors a place to rest briefly.

"We don't want people to get too comfortable and stay too long," he said. "We want them to go downstairs and explore what they've seen."

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