College unveils plan to expand Univ. of Baltimore seeks acquisition of half-dozen properties ; 'It's intelligent growth'; Projects seen as way to help strengthen Mt. Vernon-Belvedere

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In an ambitious effort that administrators say will help rejuvenate the Mount Vernon-Belvedere area, the University of Baltimore unveiled a master plan yesterday that calls for the acquisition of a half-dozen vacant or underused properties throughout midtown.

As presented to the University System of Maryland board of regents, the plan also calls for several major additions designed to help the university increase enrollment by up to 1,000 students over the next decade, including a student union, housing, parking and a library expansion.

"If this isn't smart growth, I don't know what is," said university President H. Mebane Turner, referring to a statewide planning initiative to channel growth where infrastructure already exists. "I like to say it's intelligent growth.

"We could do $35 million worth of construction in this part of the city over the next 10 years, bringing in young men and women from throughout the state if the regents support us."

The centerpiece and first component of the university's strategy is a $5 million plan to acquire the former headquarters of Loyola Federal Savings and Loan at 1300 N. Charles St. and convert it to a new administration building for the university.

Turner said before the presentation that the university has an opportunity to use its capital projects as a way to strengthen the Mount Vernon-Belvedere area, where the campus is located.

"The University of Baltimore can be a catalyst for improving the neighborhood," he said. "That's a role we can and should play We've got to start attracting more people to the city."

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke told the regents that he strongly supports the expansion plans.

He said public universities are "important economic development tools" for the city because they attract students who patronize local shops and restaurants and help the city retain employers, dTC such as Aegon Inc., an insurance company based in the 1100 block of N. Charles.

The university is in a significant location, he said, because the campus is visible from Pennsylvania Station, a gateway to the city for visitors who arrive by train.

The regents accepted the master plan with little comment.

They had previously recommended that Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the General Assembly allocate $5 million so the university can buy and renovate the Loyola building and an adjacent 70-space parking lot. The property is listed through Casey & Associates/Oncor International for $2.8 million.

Turner said the university will begin negotiating with the seller of the Charles Street building, First Union National Bank. He said he is hopeful that, with the regents' support, the funds will be allocated during the legislative session that begins in January.

Constructed in 1927 for the fraternal Knights of Pythias, the building was later converted to a nightclub where Lenny Bruce ** and others performed. It subsequently became home for Loyola, which was sold in 1995 to Crestar Financial Corp. When Crestar moved downtown, the building was acquired by First Union.

By moving its administrative offices to the former bank &r; headquarters, Turner said, the university could free up space in other campus buildings for more classrooms, meeting spaces for student clubs and other key spaces that students use, such as an improved admissions office.

It would be able to use the parking lot next to the building, he said, to build a student union, housing, library expansion or some combination of the above.

The former Odorite building on Mount Royal Avenue, which backs up to the parking lot, may stay or go, depending on whether the state wanted to spend funds to restore it as part of a new project, he said.

The university is aware that local preservationists would like to see it retained, he added.

As part of the presentation, Turner noted several other buildings that the university has eyed for "potential acquisition" over the next decade, if it can obtain funds and reach agreement with current owners.

They include the former Albert Gunther hardware store at Maryland and Biddle streets; the U.S. Postal Service vehicle repair shop on Maryland Avenue; Danny's restaurant on Charles Street; and the Towne building on Mount Royal Avenue (where actor Francis X. Bushman once lived).

These buildings aren't all likely to become part of the campus, but the regents want the master plans to show anything that is possible, Turner explained, and "almost everything that we are talking about today is for sale or has been offered to us."

Established in 1925 as a private, nonprofit evening school, offering programs in business and law, the University of Baltimore became a public institution in 1975. In 1988, it became part of the University of Maryland system.

Today, its programs are aimed at graduate students and "upper division" undergraduates -- juniors and seniors transferring from other colleges and older students.

The university has 156 faculty members and close to 6,000 full- and part-time students.

The plan drew praise from community representatives and property owners.

Converting the Loyola headquarters into an administrative center "a fine use for the building," said Charles Duff, a consultant who is developing a master plan for the Midtown Special Benefits District, which includes the campus. "Something ought to be done in it, and the university is a good neighbor."

Turner's vision of adding a residential component to the campus also good for the area, Duff said. "This is a neighborhood that ought to be a magnet for talented young people, and Meb's offering to jump-start it," he said. "That's very exciting."

Pub Date: 8/23/97

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