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Scientists wooed by marine center Columbus Center promoters relate mission to visitors


Officials promoting the Christopher Columbus Center for Marine Research and Exploration took their sales pitch directly to one of the groups essential to the $200 million project -- scientists.

With hundreds of scientists, federal officials and academics in Baltimore this week to attend the International Biotechnology Conference, state and city officials took the opportunity to get the word out about the Columbus Center. Their hope is to one day lure biotechnology firms to it.

About 25 conferees toured the Center of Marine Biotechnology at the New Community College of Baltimore's downtown campus and were given an overview of the Columbus Center. That marine technology center is slated to occupy the Columbus Center after the center's scheduled completion in late 1994.

Yesterday's overview focused heavily on the Columbus Center's proposed role as a tourist attraction that would bring marine sciences closer to average people.

Construction of the center, which is to sit on an 11.4-acre site at Piers 5 and 6 in the Inner Harbor, is expected to begin next year. A non-profit agency spearheading the project is poised to choose a developer.

Two local development firms -- Manekin Corp. and the Rouse Co. -- are finalists in the competition to manage construction and development.

When completed, the project is expected to attract 400,000 visitors a year, generating $3.7 million in revenues annually.

Stan Heuisler, chairman of Christopher Columbus Development Inc., told conferees that the center will be "a fishbowl into the marine world, creating a way for everyone to come in and learn about the science."

While Heuisler repeatedly stressed the idea of a visitor center, he also talked about the center's role in marine biotechnology, nautical archaeology and teaching future scientists.

Research conducted at the center would be applied to such things as pollution remediation and perfecting aquaculture breeding controls, he said. The archaeology unit would examine sunken ships.

"Everybody loves buried treasures and everybody loves pirate ships," he said. "It's a way of getting people in the door."

Walter Prouty, a researcher with Eli Lilly and Co. of Indianapolis, said the center "sounds intriguing," adding that mixing several functions would "take the mystique out of biotechnology."

Prouty said having exhibitions might also make the scientists produce things that have direct benefits.

He cautioned, however, that the new center may need two divisions -- education and research. Often, he explained, what makes for good, basic research does not make for a good exhibit.

Bernard Horwath of Minneapolis said he welcomes the venture.

"Biotechnology is a science not well understood," he said. "The more [education] that happens, the better it will be."

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