Neon for the '90s: Sign promotes neighborhood UniversityCenter's identification campaign includes a glowing tribute, 107 feet long


Move over "Domino Sugars" -- there's another big sign lighting up Baltimore's skyline.

To call attention to the newly christened Westside neighborhood known as UniversityCenter, property owners have erected a large neon sign atop the tallest building in the area, the 16-story Bressler Research Building.

By day, the white letters that spell out "UniversityCenter" can be seen for blocks, from key vantage points such as Interstate 95 and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

By night, when the neon lights are turned on, they seem to float in the air.

Either way, visitors no longer need a compass to find this campus.

"The sign is part of the UniversityCenter's identification program," said Robert Tennenbaum, a University of Maryland architect who helps coordinate many of the construction projects planned for the Baltimore campus.

"It encompasses not only temporary banners but an entire sign system. This is the largest one," Mr. Tennenbaum said.

As named in late 1991, UniversityCenter is the 120-acre area that includes the University of Maryland at Baltimore, the University of Maryland Medical System, the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, the Loft District and the Ridgely's Delight neighborhood.

The land is on the west side of downtown, west of the financial district but east of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Within its boundaries, construction projects with an estimated cost of more than $500 million have been planned for completion over the next decade, and many are already under way.

The sign is 107 feet long, and individual letters are up to 9 1/2 feet tall. It was erected by Belsinger Sign Co. at a cost of about $40,000, with half of the funds coming from the medical system and half from the university, Mr. Tennenbaum said.

In recent months, university and medical center officials have likened the area to a retail center, with the exception that goods and services are mostly health- and education-related.

The UniversityCenter sign is part of a strategy to market the area to prospective customers -- students or patients. Unlike signs on office towers that feature the logo of a particular company, "it's advertising a place," Mr. Tennenbaum said. "The University of Maryland is very excited about it." The 1951 Domino Sugars sign on Locust Point, meanwhile, remains the city's biggest neon sign -- with letters of up to 32 feet in height.

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