Consultants believe children can lead Market Place out of slump Proposed youth museum, center also win Schmoke's endorsement

THE BALTIMORE SUN

An article in The Sun on Monday about a proposed children's center reported incorrectly that the Maryland Committee for Children is a tenant of the Brokerage, the complex on Market Place that would house the center.

In fact, the committee owns a building at 608 Water St. that is surrounded by and connected to the Brokerage.

* The Sun regrets the error.

Despite a history of failed projects, Baltimore's Market Place would be an ideal location for a proposed children's museum and center, consultants are telling city officials.

Baltimore Children's Museum Inc. has presented preliminary plans to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke that show how a museum could anchor a $15 million to $20 million children's center in the former Brokerage shopping complex at 34 Market Place.

The consultants' report outlines an ambitious plan for a 3-acre complex that would contain offices for children's advocacy groups, a 250-seat theater, a wellness clinic and other facilities aimed at children.

Mr. Schmoke is encouraging the museum group to proceed to a more detailed level of planning.

"I think this is one of the most exciting projects that has been presented to the city in a decade, and I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get it done," he said after a recent briefing.

"The center by itself, the museum by itself -- they're very exciting," the mayor said. "But all of this together is going to be great. It starts kids out and starts families out as thinking of cities as places where you can have fun, and I think that's going to help Baltimore in the long run."

The children's complex is one of several high-profile projects planned for the Market Place area, along with the $160 million Columbus Center under construction on Piers 5 and 6, a $32 million SportsCenter USA planned for the Pier 4 Power Plant, and redevelopment of the Baltimore City Community College campus.

Market Place has been known as the site of two failed developments of the 1980s, the Brokerage and a $25 million nightclub complex called the Fishmarket. The Schmoke administration is pushing to revitalize Market Place as an extension of the attractions around the Inner Harbor.

As part of that effort, the city and state are exploring plans to turn part of the street into a canal and sculpture park that would draw people from the Inner Harbor to the proposed children's center.

"We think the time is right for development in Market Place to be very successful," the mayor said. "The governor has pledged his support in the area and so have the private property owners."

Before, "the plans were just a little bit ahead of their time," he said.

The city acquired the Brokerage this year from a Bank of America subsidiary, which sold the 276-space garage for $5 million and donated the rest of the 280,000-square-foot complex. The space includes shops, offices and restaurants in and around more than two dozen interconnected buildings.

The proposed center, envisioned to open in phases in 1995 or sooner, would have three components.

* An 80,000-square-foot, two-level museum would occupy the first two levels of the historic "Bernstein Building" at the corner of Baltimore Street and Market Place as well as the second level of a two-story structure that now houses Bennigan's restaurant. The museum would have 9,000 square feet of outdoor space.

* A 60,000-square-foot area for retailers and services that cater to children would be created in the former Brokerage mall.

LTC * A "National Center for Children" would provide 60,000 to 110,000 square feet of office space on the upper levels of the complex for advocacy and other groups that work with young people.

The feasibility study was done over the past five months by a team consisting of Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, creative consultants Gary King and Ardice Faoro, Legg Mason Realty Group and the design firm of Cho, Wilks & Benn.

The study indicated the Brokerage offers the size, visibility and accessibility to make the children's center a success, said Honora Freeman, president of the Baltimore Development Corp.

"All of the children's-based uses will cross-fertilize each other and make for a very strong center. . . . That's what will set this apart," she said.

If done well, she said, "it will attract visitors of all ages."

The consultants estimate that the children's museum would draw 430,000 visitors a year -- two-thirds of them children. That is nearly the same as the Children's Museum of Boston, which draws 463,000 visitors a year.

The consultants propose that the museum contain five or six "pods," or areas, to engage children and "set them on a path to lifelong learning."

One area, "PeopleOpolis," would focus on social interaction. "Growls & Giggles" would explore emotions and psychology. "Techno Pop" would highlight the physical world and the man-made environment.

"Art Box" would showcase creativity in areas such as music, literature and drama. "Wild Things" would present the natural world.

A "Whole Kid" pod would focus on preventive health care and good nutrition. Planners are exploring working with The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions to develop the "Whole Kid" exhibit.

Baltimore Children's Museum Inc. is a local group made up of board members of the city-owned Cloisters Museum, which will move from its location at 10440 Falls Road to the Brokerage, and a group that once proposed a children's museum inside the Power Plant.

"We know that children's work is play. But while they're playing, they're really learning," said Bea Taylor, executive director of the Cloisters Museum and a member of the team planning the new museum.

Possible office tenants include groups such the Fund for Educational Excellence, Project RAISE, the Governor's Office of

Children and Youth, and the Casey Foundation, a national organization that plans to move to Baltimore but has not named a site.

Planners hope to attract groups that "want to be near Washington or near Hopkins and the Kennedy Krieger Institute," said consultant Bill Struever.

He said the goal is to become a magnet for so many groups of "national caliber" that the complex becomes known as a national center by virtue of their presence.

Planners have praised the city's efforts to rebuild Market Place.

"The concept of providing a strong link between the children's center and the Inner Harbor "is crucial to the success of the project," said Janet Marie Smith, acting chairwoman of the museum board. "We've come to the conclusion that it can't be anything timid . . . It really has to be a big bang."

The center will need financial support from both the public and private sectors, and the pace of construction will depend on the success of fund raising, Ms. Freeman said.

The complex is being designed to take shape in phases, with the specialty office component likely to materialize before the museum.

Planners say they will work with some office and retail tenants that want to stay, such as the Maryland Committee for Children.

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