Lawsuit seeks to save UB building

University officials set to raze Odorite structure

Student center to be built

Heritage group argues for stringent protections

November 01, 2003|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Heritage Inc., a citywide historical and preservation group, filed suit in Baltimore Circuit Court yesterday in an attempt to stop demolition of a 1915 building known as the "Odorite" that the University of Baltimore plans to tear down for a new student center.

The vacant Odorite at Maryland and Mount Royal avenues is at the center of a long-brewing dispute. The mock-Tudor building was originally used for showcasing new automobiles.

University of Baltimore President Robert L. Bogomolny announced Thursday that he plans to go forward with plans to raze the Odorite and build in its place a 38,000-square-foot student center, which is to include a bookstore, theater and food court. The university wants to open it by the summer of 2005.

Bogomolny has said the $13.9 million center in the Mount Vernon historic area will help develop a strong sense of student community.

The lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order to stop demolition of the Odorite.

"In theory, the bulldozers could be moving down the street right now," Thomas J. Cosgrove, a lawyer for Baltimore Heritage, said yesterday.

The suit contends that because the university is located on the Baltimore City Heritage Area, it is subject to more stringent historic preservation standards.

"The university is required to comply with historic preservation statutes when taking actions that may have an adverse effect on a historic or cultural resource," reads the suit.

Bogomolny has stood behind his proposal to raze the university-owned building despite strong opposition from some residents and preservation groups.

He could not be reached for comment, but Peter Toran, vice president for planning for the university, said that he feels confident the school is within its rights to demolish the building.

Toran also said a student center would be "critical" to student life.

"The University of Baltimore is the only university in the system without a student center," Toran said. "Our students have no central location to congregate. This is long overdue and critical to the needs of students."

Local preservationists say a compromise might be to build on a different site on the campus, or to preserve part of the building within a new structure. But Toran said those options don't exist.

Retaining the Odorite would cost more and provide less space than constructing a new building, he said.

"Our students should have a building they deserve at a cost they deserve," Toran said.

This summer, the project came under fire from local preservationists and the Maryland Historical Trust, as well as the state's Architectural Review Board. Panel members voted 5-1 in July to withhold approval of preliminary plans for the center.

Cosgrove said he believes the university simply doesn't like the building.

"It's crystal clear president Bogomolny doesn't like the Odorite building that much," Cosgrove said. "Just because the president doesn't like the building, doesn't mean he can decide it should be destroyed."

A hearing on the matter is scheduled at 4 p.m. Tuesday in Circuit Court.

The Odorite is not on the listing of the Maryland Register of Historic Properties. It was designed by the Smith & May architecture firm, the firm that designed the Bank of America building on Light Street in the downtown.

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