EVEN AFTER Tuesday's public auction of $140,000 in assets of the bankrupt Columbus Center, Baltimore and the state stand to lose $6 million in the proposed state takeover. Nevertheless, the deal benefits taxpayers.
This way, the Inner Harbor research complex, which opened with high hopes and great fanfare in 1995, at least will retain some of its promise as a showcase for breakthroughs in marine biology. Once the deal clears the legal hurdles, the University System of Maryland, which will control the landmark building, must fulfill two goals:
1) Restart negotiations to bring the federal Food and Drug Administration's seafood toxin researchers to the center.
2) Make sure that the taxpayer-financed facility remains open to the public.
The proposed state takeover would keep the University of Maryland Center of Marine Biotechnology as the building's main tenant. This would honor the commitment to research that center proponents made in arguing for federal, state and city funding for the bubble-roofed building.
Freeing the Columbus Center from the clutches of bankruptcy court could also resume development of the adjoining waterfront. Before the collapse, the Cordish Co., owner of the successful Power Plant, had been in talks to build a seven-level garage at the eastern wall of the Columbus Center, as well as three one-story retail stores on nearby vacant land.
With its distinguished design, the Columbus Center is a key element in efforts to expand Inner Harbor redevelopment farther east. It sank because of overly optimistic financial projections. Other projects in the area have suffered a similar fate -- from the Fishmarket and the Brokerage to Harbor Inn at Pier 5.
The Columbus Center rescue plan comes as those attractions are being revived. With state control, the center would regain the financial viability needed to realize many exciting goals of its original developers.
Pub Date: 12/10/98