At yesterday's ground breaking ceremony for the Christopher Columbus Center of Marine Research and Exploration in the Inner Harbor, Gov. William Donald Schaefer called the project the beginning of "a second Renaissance in Baltimore."
The temptation, of course, is to discount such sweeping statements as so much ceremonial hyperbole, especially coming from such a Baltimore booster as Governor Schaefer.
Yet the new Columbus Center is one of the most important undertakings in Baltimore since the Inner Harbor itself. And it holds the potential not only to help make Baltimore a world leader in marine research and biotechnology, but to transform the very character and quality of life in this city during the next century.
According to recent studies, the U.S. biotechnology industry is expected to produce revenues of as much as $60 billion annually. A report by the Abell Foundation estimated the Columbus Center's presence could attract and create as many as 250 new companies over a decade and pump $300 million a year into the Maryland economy.
Such growth would have profound implications for every aspect of life in Baltimore, from schools to housing to public services to the city's cultural institutions. It would put Baltimore on the cutting edge of the knowledge-based economic development of the Twenty-first Century.
At the core of the the Columbus Center will be the Center of Marine Biotechnology, the only marine science institution in the U.S. totally dedicated to the fields of marine molecular biology and molecular genetics. These practical, product-oriented fields hold enormous potential in the areas of pharmaceuticals, food supply and marine products.
In addition, the Columbus Center will include a Center of Marine Archaeology, focusing on research in marine exploration, diving technology and instrumentation, underwater robotics, archaeology and salvage, and an exhibition area that allows visitors to witness directly the on-going work of the center's scientists and technicians. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, who was on hand for yesterday's ceremony, predicted the latter will solidify the Inner Harbor's stature as a major educational experience as well as tourist attraction.
No one who witnessed yesterday's gathering could help being struck by the visionary character of the Columbus Center and its breathtaking goal of creating a world-class marine science and biotechnology research facility to serve as the core of a new life sciences industry that will generate thousands of new jobs and economic opportunities. Governor Schaefer surely spoke for all those who have worked so hard to make this vision a reality.