Eighteen months after announcing plans to turn Baltimore's west side into a new neighborhood called "UniversityCenter," a consortium of city, state and private officials is living up to its promises.
Cranes are high in the sky over construction sites of the $90 million Homer Gudelsky Inpatient Tower, an expansion of the University of Maryland Medical Center, and the $50 million Health Sciences Facility, part of the University of Maryland at Baltimore.
Legislators this spring approved $40.4 million for a Medical Biotechnology Center and nearly $1 million to design a $28 million Health Sciences Library and computer center.
But a true neighborhood is more than blockbusters. It's a mixture large-scale development and small, commercial and residential, new and old.
That's why it's encouraging to see UniversityCenter winning recognition this month -- proclaimed Maryland Preservation Month by Gov. William Donald Schaefer -- for one of its smaller-scale efforts.
The project is 701 W. Pratt Street, the $5.9 million conversion of a five-story loft building to offices and patient treatment facilities for the University of Maryland Medical System, parent of the medical center. It is one of eight projects honored this year by Baltimore Heritage, a preservation advocacy group.
Besides the university and the medical system, UniversityCenter includes the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, the Loft District and the Ridgely's Delight neighborhood -- more than 120 acres all told.
The eastern half of 701 W. Pratt was built in 1904 by the Standard Overall Co., one of many garment makers in the once-bustling Loft District. The western half was built around 1914. Part of the Ridgely's Delight historic district, the complex was sold in the 1940s to the United Decorative Flower Co., a manufacturer of seasonal floral arrangements and other decorations. United vacated it in 1988, moving to a larger space in Canton.
The University of Maryland Medical System bought it in 1988 as part of its $210 million expansion program.
The building turned out to be just the right size and location for the medical system, which needed satellite space where it could relocate offices and clinics to make way for new construction.
"What we've been trying to do is move administrative offices to lower-cost space and leave room [within the hospital] for clinical care," explained Dennis Schrader, chief of operations for the medical system. "Because we're connected by computer, that allows us to communicate with the hospital. It's a better use of our real estate assets."
Planners tried to be sensitive to the residents of Ridgely's Delight, Mr. Schrader said. "We wanted to make a contribution to the neighborhood and pick up the character of the historic district."
Kann and Associates, the project architect, moved the main entrance from Pratt Street to the west side of the building and created a landscaped courtyard that doubles as a minipark. At its center is a steel structure that echoes the dome of Davidge Hall, the oldest building on the campus.
Turner Contracting Co. was the general contractor for the project, which included extensive masonry cleaning and pointing, window repair and replacement, and reconstruction of the roof and cornice. Inside, the designers intentionally left traces of the old loft building, including exposed timber columns and painted brick walls as reminders of the building's past. Darrell Edwards was the medical system's project manager.
Someday, perhaps, conversions such as 701 W. Pratt Street will be so common they won't need to be recognized in an awards program. But for now, it shows what an institution can do to prepare for the future without losing sight of the past.
Schaefer, Donkervoet to be honored
In addition to citing restoration projects, Baltimore Heritage will give its Douglas H. Gordon Award for Preservation Advocacy to Governor Schaefer. Carolyn Donkervoet will receive an honor award for her 11 years as executive director of the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point. She is retiring June 30.
The awards banquet will be at 6 p.m. May 26 at the USF&G; Corp. Mount Washington Center, 5800 Smith Ave. For reservations, call Baltimore Heritage at 366-7724.
L Baltimore Heritage has honored these sites:* Camden Station.
* Oriole Park.
* Head Theater at Center Stage.
* Orchard Street Church.
* Washington Monument.
* 701 W. Pratt St.
* Baltimore Museum of Industry for re-erecting a former Bethlehem Steel ship- yard crane on Key Highway.
* The Convent, a low- income apartment complex at former St. Michael's Convent in East Baltimore.