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Visions

October 23, 2005

The Baltimore Visitor Center at the west end of the Inner Harbor on Light Street has captured the Grand Design Award of the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

The visually arresting 8,000-square-foot center was designed by Design Collective Inc. of Baltimore for the Baltimore Development Corp.

It opened about a year and a half ago, filling a long-standing need for a place for visitors to Baltimore to learn more about the city's attractions.

By its first anniversary in May, the $4.5 million center had attracted nearly 400,000 visitors. That exceeds the 250,000 initially expected.

It's unclear whether any of the city's attractions have seen an increase in visitors as a direct result of the center because nobody tracks that information. But many agree the center has helped make the city's tourist attractions much more visible.

"They have wonderful volunteers and paid staff that very enthusiastically promote the aquarium and other downtown attractions," said Lyn Frankel, senior director of marketing for the National Aquarium. "They're real ambassadors for us."

The visitor center's largely glass structure, with its wavy roof, is an attraction in itself. Some people are drawn to the building without even knowing what it is. Once inside, they find racks of brochures on topics including city neighborhoods and big attractions such as the Maryland Science Center. A 50-seat theater plays an 11-minute film about Baltimore and Maryland. There is also information for people considering moving to the city.

The award judges praised the building as a "beautifully-executed urban pavilion. The rectilinear glass building opens to the public while the roof form is evocative of waves, water and sails. It provides a beautiful and solid connection to the city."

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