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Aquarium expansion unveiled


The National Aquarium in Baltimore unveiled plans yesterday for a $48 million expansion that would add a glass pyramid housing an aquatic life exhibit, a cafM-i, gift shop, landscaped plazas and 15 neon-ringed fish sculptures in a reflecting pool beside Pratt Street.

The pyramid would face the Power Plant restaurant complex and would be the fourth glass triangular form atop the 19-year-old aquarium, which draws 1.7 million visitors a year.

Inside the pyramid would be a habitat teeming with plants, fish and other creatures - perhaps a variation on the aquarium's popular Amazon River Forest exhibit, said David Pittenger, executive director of the aquarium.

"The expansion will provide a powerful new blockbuster exhibit for the Inner Harbor," Pittenger told the city's Design Advisory Panel yesterday during a review of revised sketches of the project.

The panel, which will look at another revision of the project in coming months, recommends whether the city should grant a building permit and allow the construction to move forward.

The aquarium, which is one of the top tourism magnets for the city, has been showing city officials sketches of its possible expansion since 1997.

But yesterday's presentation was the most ambitious version, boosting the aquarium's size by a quarter and including several features - including the pyramid and reflecting pool - that city officials had not seen before.

"The project seems to have a noble objective and a very good plan," said Walter D. Ramberg, a member of the panel. "It works."

The expansion is one of several projects planned for this section of the Inner Harbor. To the north, the Cordish Co. is renovating 34 Market Place to create a complex of nightclubs and restaurants.

To the east on Pier 4, the Cordish Co. is planning an office building as an addition to the Power Plant. Two blocks farther east, at Pratt and President streets, a group of museum developers is planning to build an African-American history museum.

The new aquarium building would add 50,000 square feet of exhibits and shop space to the north of the aquarium's 200,000 square feet of exhibits.

The aquarium's ticket booth, cafM-i and gift shop would be redesigned and moved from their current locations, according to drawings presented by architect Bobby Poole, who helped design the original aquarium in the 1970s.

The renovations, which might be two or more years off, might include replacing part of the bus turnaround on Pratt Street with a large reflecting pool.

Jutting out of the pool would be 15 flaglike sculptures atop rods, whose tops would shift their alignment with changes in wind directions. Printed on these flaglike tops would be the blue fish that make up the aquarium's logo.

Trimming the sculptures would be strips of neon.

Replacing what is now a barren-looking cement plaza in front of the aquarium would be a field dotted with reflecting pools, trees and shadelike structures that look like umbrellas.

"The aquarium will be 20 years old next year, and we've had some 30 million-plus visitors over that time. We want to take a very successful, world-class institution and take the next step to make it even better," said Pittenger.

The aquarium has launched a fund-raising campaign to pay for the project, Pittenger said.

Dan Lincoln, vice president of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, said the city plans to make the new aquarium exhibit part of promotional campaigns to draw more tourists to the city. The name and theme of the new exhibit have not been announced by the aquarium.

"For the last almost 20 years, the aquarium has been extremely important to our tourism, but it has not had an expansion in quite a while. So this will give us a new product to sell, another reason for people to come back to Baltimore," said Lincoln.

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