Visitor center planned for Penn Station 'Baltimore Gateway' to cost $1 million


Hoping to infuse Penn Station with new life, Baltimore officials are teaming with Amtrak and local businesses to create a "Baltimore Gateway" visitors center featuring new shops and restaurants, a 3-D model of the city and overdue renovations.

The plans, to be announced this morning, represent a public acknowledgment of what many Amtrak commuters have known for years: The 94-year-old station is one of the nation's oldest, prettiest and busiest, but it isn't much of a place to while away the time waiting for a train.

City officials estimate the effort would cost about $1 million, of which the city is contributing $150,000.

The rest is to come in cash or services from Amtrak, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., other corporate donations and possibly the Maryland Mass Transit Administration.

"I think that this initiative has far-reaching implications for tourism, economic development and regional cooperation," said Mary Sue McCarthy, executive director of the Mayor's Commission on Tourism, Entertainment and Culture.

"It's an effort to make the station a regional gateway that we can all be proud of.

"Our goal is to make the station a destination and an attraction in and of itself."

Plans also call for an effort to revive the neighborhoods surrounding the Beaux Arts station by hiring safety workers and cleaning crews at a cost of about $50,000 a year, Ms. McCarthy said.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was to join Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III and business leaders at the Walters Art Gallery's Pavilion Restaurant this morning to kick off the effort with a slide show and the unveiling of huge "Baltimore" banners to hang from the station.

At the center of the grand hall will sit the three-dimensional model of Baltimore, a room-sized, high-tech exhibit expected to cost about $300,000. It will feature model trains and buttons that tourists will touch next to the names of attractions, which then will light up.

Amtrak plans to restore the grand hall to its former splendor by cleaning the tiles, revarnishing woodwork and replacing ironwork.

The railroad also is seeking new tenants such as restaurants, vendor carts, a yogurt store and a candy store.

A sculpture and other artwork also are planned.

The station, which just opened a 550-car parking garage, is expected to become much busier and more important to Baltimore's economy and image with the completion -- within two years -- of a light-rail spur connecting Amtrak and mass transit.

About 36,000 rail passengers a week now pass through the station.

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