AQUARIUM PICKS TURNER FOR WESTPORT PROJECT
The Daily Record
The National Aquarium in Baltimore has chosen Baltimore developer Patrick Turner to spearhead its multimillion dollar expansion along the Patapsco River’s Middle branch, an official there told The Daily Record yesterday.
The project expands Turner’s control of the Southwest Baltimore waterfront, where he is now clearing ground for a massive mixed-use development in the city’s Westport neighborhood. In the next 10 years, that project could yield 2,000 homes, a hotel and 3 million square feet of office and retail space, anchored by a 65-story skyscraper.
The aquarium’s planned expansion was partly what drew Turner to the Middle Branch, an industrial shoreline once home to the Carr-Lowrey glass factory, Constellation Energy Group and other businesses. Those hubs have been vacant for years, turning the area into a ghost town.
But the Middle Branch has its strengths, such as the Westport light rail station, a waterfront walking trail and proximity to downtown.
The aquarium had those advantages in mind when it began negotiating years ago to buy from the city 20 acres of land and a garage on the eastern shore of the Middle Branch, where it would create an aquatic life center, a park and fishing pier. The center would house animal-care operations, classrooms, research space and offices for the aquarium’s exhibits team. A hotel and conference center also could be in the mix as a final phase of the project.
“There are a lot of things that have to domino for this to happen, said Molly Foyle, a spokeswoman for the aquarium.
“These things just take time,”
Turner could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Earlier this year, it seemed doubtful that the aquariums expansion would take place at all. Months after the city agreed to the Middle Branch sale, the aquarium had failed to pay the city for the land. In June, the city gave the aquarium until the end of the year to shell out.
That money will soon come in the form of a $5 million loan from the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. Tomorrow, the state Board of Public Works will vote to approve the funds for the aquarium.
The cash will be used as a payment to the city for the Middle Branch land, which will ultimately cost $8 million. The remaining funds will be paid sometime next year, Foyle said.
“They have finally gotten all of the pieces of the puzzle in place at this point,” said Jim Henry, managing director of finance programs for DBED. “It’s now a workable project for them.”
There is no defined repayment schedule for the $5 million, Henry said.
“We’ll get paid back as development occurs,” he said.
The facility was initially supposed to be completed by 2008. But that date was postponed when the aquarium extended until 2013 a lease in its current center in Fells Point.
It is unclear when construction on the new facility will begin, Foyle said. The only hard deadline is2013, when the aquarium must move out of its Fells Point facility.
Before development can occur, the city has to move its car fleet out of the Middle Branch maintenance garage, which it is selling to the aquarium. The city Departments of Public Works is now building a new garage at 3800 E. Biddle St., which could be finished late next year or in early 2008.
Whenever it occurs, the aquarium’s expansion will be a boon for Baltimore, said Nancy Hinds, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. The National Aquarium, located at downtown’s Inner Harbor is one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions.
“When you have a city entity as important as the aquarium, that’s very important,” Hinds said.
It will also play a crucial role in revitalizing the Middle Branch, which city planners have designated as a growth area.
“It’s another way to highlight Baltimore’s waterfront,” Hinds said. “I think it will bring great attention to that area.”
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