Balloon is, well, up in the air over its future

Kids' museum may move, Hi-Flyer awaits invitation

August 01, 2002|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

If the struggling children's museum at Port Discovery moves to the Columbus Center, the operator of the nearby tourism balloon hopes to go with it.

But no one has invited the attraction to make the journey across Pratt Street to the space previously occupied by the failed Hall of Exploration. Its operator is not even certain that the Hi-Flyer balloon would fit.

"We'd like to remain with Port Discovery," said Lee Raskin, developer of the Hi-Flyer, which is operated by Sky High of Maryland LLC. "We've had a great partnership. But if it doesn't fit, then we'd like to remain at our present site and hopefully remain part of Power Plant Live."

David Cordish, the developer of Power Plant Live who is bidding against the city's school system for the children's museum current space, has talked with him about the balloon remaining at its current site, Raskin said. A similar balloon attraction operates at Cordish's Rainbow Center project on the New York side of Niagara Falls.

But no Port Discovery officials have approached him about moving with them, Raskin said yesterday.

In an interview last week, Douglas L. Becker, chairman and chief executive of Sylvan Learning Systems Inc. and chairman of the Port Discovery board, said he thought the balloon would fit and was optimistic that it would move. He was traveling internationally yesterday and could not be reached for comment.

Raskin estimated that it would cost about $500,000 to move the balloon and said a benefactor would be needed. The costs would include removing and then reinstalling concrete at the base of the balloon, which is tethered to the ground by a steel cable.

A 10-ton winch lets the cable in and out, enabling the helium-filled balloon to rise and return to the ground.

The Abell Foundation currently guarantees the mortgage on the balloon. It's too early to say whether the foundation would be willing to play a financial role were the balloon to move, Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the Abell Foundation, said yesterday.

If Port Discovery were to close, the Hi-Flyer would be without foot traffic from museum visitors and without an entity to market its tickets - a job Port Discovery now does.

The balloon, which launched in July last year, has given about 30,000 rides since opening, Raskin said. Ridership is below projections because of a short season last year and curtailed hours this year.

The balloon operates Sundays from noon to 5 p.m., Mondays through Wednesdays from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Thursdays through Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

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