Focus on science, education seen for downtown


If the 1960s and 1970s were decades when Baltimore grew as a business center, and the 1980s were years when it became a destination for tourists and conventioneers, then the 1990s will be "a decade in which we reinvent ourselves as a center of science and technology and higher education," the acting head of Baltimore's downtown development agency predicted yesterday.

In one of his first public addresses since he was named acting head of Center City-Inner Harbor Development Inc., David M. Gillece said the effort to make downtown Baltimore a home for scientific and technological endeavors is a key part of a vision to guide downtown development over the coming decade.

"To make downtown a center of science, technology and higher education -- that is a fairly remarkable vision and frankly different than what would have been suggested five or 10 years ago," he told a breakfast meeting of more than 100 members and guests of the Downtown Partnership, a quasi-public group formed last year to promote the continued revitalization of Baltimore's central business district.

Many communities share the goal of encouraging scientific and technological endeavors, Mr. Gillece said, but few have made the effort Baltimore has to put those activities in the center of downtown with projects such as the $200 million Christopher Columbus Center of Marine Research and Exploration planned for the Inner Harbor.

"There is no other city today taking its most valuable real estate -- Piers 5 and 6 -- and dedicating it so a non-profit organization can build a center for research in marine biotechnology," he said.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke named Mr. Gillece to serve as acting head of Center City-Inner Harbor in November and asked him to evaluate the possibility of merging that quasi-public agency and the one Mr. Gillece has headed since 1988, the Baltimore Economic Development Corp.

In his address yesterday, Mr. Gillece stopped short of saying whether a merger would take place and promised that the mayor would make an announcement in "very, very short order." But he said that having studied the situation, he is "persuaded that there are real and significant synergies between the two respective organizations and would have no problem arguing for a merger."

Center City-Inner Harbor oversees development within the central business district. BEDCO was formed in 1976 to facilitate the growth and expansion of businesses throughout the city. Center City-Inner Harbor has a staff of about 30 and an annual budget of about $1.7 million. BEDCO has a staff of 24 and an annual operating budget of about $1.3 million a year.

Mr. Gillece said after the meeting that if the mayor decides to merge the agencies, the goal probably will be to complete the merger by July 1, the start of the city's fiscal year.

During his talk, Mr. Gillece said other signs of the effort to make downtown a center for science, technology and education are the $500 million in expansion projects planned for the University of Maryland at Baltimore and a proposal by developer Richard Swirnow to build a "medical mart" near the Inner Harbor or the Camden Yards sports complex.

Mr. Gillece said three other key strategies that the city is pursuing to guide downtown development are:

* Increasing convention and tourism business with projects such as the Camden Yards baseball stadium and Convention Center expansion.

* Increasing the number of residences downtown with projects such as HarborView, Inner Harbor East and Waterloo Place.

* Increasing demand for office space downtown.

The 35-member advisory committee formed by Mr. Schmoke to propose a "progressive strategy for guiding downtown development" will release its final report in April, Mr. Gillece said.

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