Ground broken for children's museum Disney affiliate designing exhibits at downtown site


Walt Disney Co. came a step closer to realizing its latest venture in Baltimore yesterday when its representatives joined Gov. Parris N. Glendening and others to break ground for a $32 million children's museum called Port Discovery.

Walt Disney Imagineering, a Disney affiliate, is designing the exhibits for the nonprofit museum, which is due to open in early December in the former city fish market on Market Place downtown.

It's one of the few occasions in Disney's 45-year history that the company has agreed to work on a project it will not own, WDI Senior Vice President Peter Steinman told several hundred museum supporters who gathered for the groundbreaking.

Port Discovery is one of two Disney-related projects under construction in Baltimore. The other is ESPN Zone, a sports-theme restaurant and entertainment center due to open in July in the Power Plant on Pier 4.

"Every once in a while an interesting and exciting project comes along that we just can't say no to because it is such a valuable and worthwhile endeavor. Such is the case with Port Discovery," Steinman said.

Disney, who died in 1966, "felt it was his business to continually challenge the imaginations of children and adults," Steinman said. "We at Walt Disney Imagineering are very excited about our participation in Port Discovery and in our relationship with the city of Baltimore."

As part of the ceremony, organizers announced that the museum will officially open Dec. 10, after a round of previews.

They also announced that five new grants of at least $1 million each have pushed them over the $32 million mark they needed to pay for construction, and they announced a new campaign to raise $3 million more to pay for initial operating costs and build an endowment.

The latest grants are: $2 million from the U.S. Department of Education; $1.5 million from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation; and $1 million each from the Abell Foundation, France and Merrick Foundations and W. K. Kellogg Foundation.

Glendening announced that as part of Maryland's Smart Growth initiative, another $70,000 in state funds will be used to improve lighting and signs at the Metro station nearest the museum.

He noted that Baltimore has many attractions that are educational and fun to visit, including the Maryland Science Center, the National Aquarium in Baltimore and Walters Art Gallery.

Port Discovery "will complement and be a capstone to those activities," he said. "I'm very, very pleased that all of this is taking place. It's a tremendous effort."

Michael Bronfein, president and chief executive officer of NeighborCare, and his wife, Jessica, have been named honorary chairpersons of the newly announced "First Families Campaign" for Port Discovery, which is seeking donors willing to contribute $1,500 to $5,000 to support the children's museum. Board chairman Douglas Becker said he would like to see donations to the First Families campaign from at least 3,000 individuals or families.

Amos, Bailey & Lee Ltd. of Baltimore is the architect for Port Discovery. Barton Malow/Banks Joint Venture is the construction manager. Cho, Wilks and Benn is the site architect. The Rouse Co. is a development consultant.

Also attending yesterday's ceremony were students from four schools: Thomas Johnson Elementary, Walter P. Carter Elementary and Mount Zion Baptist Church School, all in Baltimore, and Elkridge Elementary in Howard County.

When complete, Baltimore's 80,000-square-foot museum will be the second-largest of 300 children's museums in North America, second to one in Indianapolis. Directors hope it will attract at least 475,000 visitors a year.

Pub Date: 5/05/98

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