The University of Baltimore president says he is forging ahead with a contentious plan to raze a 1915 building known as the "Odorite," which some neighbors and preservationists are fighting to save.
President Robert L. Bogomolny conceded that his quest to build a student center has been clouded by problems of the university's doing -- such as previously failing to comply with a state regulation for demolishing architecturally significant buildings. But he said the problems have been ironed out and the project should go forward.
"We screwed up the process, but in fact the university needs this [student center] building," Bogomolny told a gathering of 100 Mount Vernon-Belvedere neighbors at the Belvedere Hotel this week.
Speaking of the vacant Odorite building at Maryland and Mount Royal avenues, he added, "If I could levitate and preserve the building, I would."
Baltimore Heritage, a nonprofit preservation group, is threatening to sue to keep the Odorite building from demolition. John Maclay, the president, said he and other Baltimore preservationists would take legal action to keep the wrecking ball at bay.
Bogomolny said yesterday that a lawsuit would be "unfortunate," and that the university is in compliance with requirements for evaluating a state property's historical significance.
"We needed to go to the Maryland Historical Trust, and we are now going through the process," he said. "We will do what the law requires us to do."
Some historical experts remain skeptical, and say that state law requires the university to attempt to come up with alternative solutions to razing.
Andrew Lewis, a Maryland Historical Trust preservation officer, said the Odorite building -- which is within Baltimore's heritage area -- merits more architectural study.
UB officials "have not met the requirements of law," Lewis said. "There should be an exhaustive evaluation of alternate plans."
A possible compromise might be to build on a different site on the campus, or to preserve part of the building within the framework of a new structure, Lewis said.
Bogomolny said he has ruled out another site or saving a part of the building, decisions that have riled preservationists.
The dozens of residents opposing demolition of the mock-Tudor building -- originally used for showcasing new automobiles -- include Martin Perschler, who holds a doctorate in architectural history.
Perschler said he was outraged at the prospect of losing the building.
"You can't just take the Odorite down without recognizing or acknowledging its significance in early 20th-century Northeast city history," he said.
But Bogomolny is sticking to his proposal, which he is trying to sell to the midtown community. He told neighbors of the commuter campus that a bookstore, a theater and a food facility, all contained within the planned 60,000-square-foot center, would enliven the district. The cost of the project is close to $16 million.
"This project enriches the community," he said, "and will be a cultural gathering space."
He said the university could not afford further extensive architectural plans of alternative sites or designs in its compliance with state law. "We have to use our judgment of what's reasonable and prudent," he said.
The building represents a $2 million environmental cleanup challenge because it is full of asbestos and other hazardous materials, Bogomolny said.
Lewis said the building's run-down condition is alarming. "One of our serious concerns is that we will see demolition by neglect," he said.
Bogomolny's confident approach seemed to irk some who wanted to hear more choices. "I'm only hearing about Plan A," Linda Hazlehurst said.