$3.5 million visitor center contract OK'd

Kirby & Sons to build Inner Harbor facility

October 10, 2002|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

The Board of Estimates approved yesterday the awarding of a $3.5 million contract for the long-delayed Baltimore Visitors Center, clearing the way to break ground on the project this month. "The greatest beneficiaries of the visitors center will be the attractions outside the Inner Harbor," said Andrew B. Frank, executive vice president of Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development agency.

"Imagine the potential for 15 million people to be exposed to the latest exhibit at the Walters or the expansion planned for the Great Blacks in Wax [Museum] or a festival in Baltimore County."

The Board of Estimates last month rejected four bids for the project on the western shore of the Inner Harbor, one because it was over budget and three because they did not properly document an intent to comply with minority participation requirements.

The contract was awarded to Baltimore-based Roy Kirby & Sons Inc. After publicity surrounding the rejection of bids last month, Kirby came in $355,000 under its previous bid, Frank said.

"It will be one of the most visible public buildings constructed in years," Frank said. "This is an important public works project."

Plans for the visitors center have been in the works for more than six years. During that time, at least five alternative sites have been considered, including the warehouse at Camden Yards, City Life Museums, and sites in Market Place, at Rash Field and in the Hall of Exploration at the Columbus Center.

The project is expected to cost $4.8 million with the inclusion of design costs and interior furnishings. It is being financed with $1.5 million in state funds, $2 million from the city, $500,000 from private investors, $250,000 from the development corporation and the remainder from the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association.

BACVA officials vacated a temporary visitors center on Constellation Pier in the spring of 1999 because the Living Classrooms Foundation, which owns the building, wanted to use the space. They had hoped to break ground on a permanent visitors center that year.

But project delays forced the center to use temporary quarters in a trailer between the Light Street Pavilion of Harborplace and the Maryland Science Center, where it has remained. The new center is to be just south of the pavilion.

The latest design calls for a one-story glass pavilion with 7,950 square feet of space, a scaled-down version of an earlier proposal that called for two levels and 14,000 square feet.

The center is to provide exhibition space for attractions outside the Inner Harbor, ticketing services, bathrooms and a theater seating 100 people.

Sun staff writer Laura Vozzella contributed to this article.

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