Children's museum won't cut its hours

Port Discovery decides not to reduce times in anticipation of move

August 30, 2002|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

Port Discovery, Baltimore's children's museum, will not cut back its hours this fall in anticipation of moving to a new location in the former home of the Hall of Exploration in the nearby Columbus Center on Pier 5.

"Because there is a good chance we will be closed for 60 to 90 days as a result of the move, we did not want to create further confusion to the public by changing our hours from what they were," said Michelle Winner, a spokeswoman for Port Discovery.

As recently as last month, museum officials had planned to shave three hours off the Tuesday-through-Thursday schedule from October through May as a cost-cutting measure. The museum, which has never met initial attendance projections, has been operating at a deficit.

Instead of closing at 2 p.m. those days, the museum will remain open until 5 p.m. at least through Dec. 31.

"We decided, with the prospective move to the Columbus Center: `Let's just not do this,'" said Alan M. Leberknight, Port Discovery's president and chief executive.

After Labor Day, the museum will, however, limit its September operation to Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m - providing time to clean exhibits and train employees. This is a practice followed in children's museums across the country, since September traditionally is a slow time for school visits.

In July, the University System of Maryland's Board of Regents reached an agreement with Port Discovery for the museum to move to the former Hall of Exploration. The university system owns the building that housed the hall, a $147 million marine biotechnology exhibit for children that closed months after it opened in 1997.

But final papers have not been signed.

"We don't have a lease at this point, but we continue to be dealing with them exclusively," said David H. Nevins, chairman of the finance committee of the Board of Regents and president of a public relations firm, Nevins & Associates. "The ball is in the court of Port Discovery, which has a few responsibilities to get taken care of to get this move accomplished."

Leberknight said no decision has been made on a tenant for the Port Discovery space, and until that happens the deal with the Hall of Exploration will not proceed. The museum leases its current location from the city for $1 a year and has 95 years remaining.

"We have to finalize the renting of our building and get the final city approvals," Leberknight said.

As that deal unfolds, the city school system will begin operating a specialized high school at Port Discovery on Tuesday. About 90 ninth-graders will occupy five classrooms totaling about 6,000 square feet in the Market Place museum. The one-year lease is for $75,000, according to a spokeswoman for the Baltimore City schools.

Renovations would have to be made to the building if the school - called the National Academy Foundation School for Finance, Tourism and Technology - were to occupy the space for longer than one school year. The school expects to add a grade a year to the academy until enrollment reaches 350 to 400 students.

Establishing a school in the museum space has drawn criticism from a variety of people, including developer David Cordish, who has expressed interest in developing the current children's museum site should it become available; City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt; and the Rev. Frank M. Reid III of Bethel AME Church.

Among their concerns: the proximity to bars, pornography shops and strip clubs.

Although the lease is temporary, Cordish is still not happy.

"I'm not thrilled," Cordish said yesterday. "We just think it's inappropriate."

If Port Discovery moves, Cordish says, it is important that the space be used to generate money for the city.

"We don't lust after the Port Discovery space," he said. "It's just important that the private sector get it on the tax rolls and expand this district. Anyone who does it as an entertainment district generates millions in taxes for the city. The school generates zero."

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