Port Discovery museum move to Columbus Center still possible

Options being reviewed, UM regents panel says

January 24, 2003|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's children's museum, Port Discovery, remains a possible tenant for the University of Maryland-owned Columbus Center in the Inner Harbor, a key panel of the university's regents decided yesterday.

"The committee essentially instructed the staff, while continuing to work with Port Discovery, to begin reviewing other options relative to interest that has been expressed," said David H. Nevins, chairman of the Board of Regents finance committee.

Nevins, who declined to identify the other interested parties, said he expected that the process could take weeks.

Last week, Nevins had said the committee would consider whether to continue talks with Port Discovery because of the financial hurdles the children's museum faces.

"I appreciate their continued interest in Port Discovery," Douglas L. Becker, chairman of Port Discovery's board of directors, said yesterday. "We're focused on deciding what's best for Port Discovery. Once we make our decision, if our decision were to go to the Columbus Center, we'd sit down and work things out with the University System of Maryland."

Becker said yesterday that he expected the decision could be made as early as next week.

Port Discovery's planned move from Market Place is part of an effort to shore up finances at the $32 million museum, which has been operating at a deficit. The museum lost money again last year, Becker said, but final figures are not available.

Nevins said last week that he expected the museum to ask for a reduction in the rent it had agreed to pay in July under a proposed lease for the Columbus Center's long-vacant Hall of Exploration. With the annual cost of maintaining the hall running from $500,000 to $700,000, Nevins said it was unlikely the board would accept any "significant decrease."

A handful of potential tenants have shown interest in the Hall of Exploration, ranging from retail to commercial to public museum users that would be both short-term and long-term tenants, Nevins said. University officials hope to have the space occupied by spring or summer, he said.

Port Discovery also has held informal talks with officials at the Maryland Science Center, which is undergoing an expansion, about the possibility of relocating there.

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