The inside of the Maryland Science Center. Photo by A. Currell, via Flickr.

From a new IMAX projection system for the Maryland Science Center to larger-than-life exhibits for kids to learn and play, state officials today signed off on more than $6 million in bond-funded grants to help some of Baltimore’s top downtown institutions with large-scale projects.

The largest two grants, both $2 million, go to the Hippodrome Foundation, to help build a new “community-oriented facility” at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center on N. Eutaw Street, and to the National Aquarium, to help cover costs for its new, $20 million Animal Rescue and Care Center in Jonestown.

The aquarium’s new animal care center opened this past March, and general public tours are expected to begin early next year, the aquarium’s website says.

The Hippodrome Foundation will use its grant to help overhaul what’s currently a multi-use space and banquet hall at the M&T Bank Pavilion, executive director Olive Waxter told Baltimore Fishbowl Wednesday. It’s one of four buildings there that were set to be part of the initial full-scale renovation of the historic theater and complex, but has “sat idle” for the last 14 years, Waxter said.

When it’s finished, it will remain an adaptable space for everything from corporate events to proms and community health programming, but will also be outfitted with lights and sound equipment to serve as a smaller-scale entertainment venue than the main theater, with room for up to 1,000 people.

“The Hippodrome has been terrific and has welcomed millions of people since it opened, but in terms of offering lower-priced entertainment for a larger percentage of the community, this space is really gonna help us do that,” Waxter said.

The project’s total cost is roughly $12 million, she said. The foundation plans to ask the state for $2 million more through a bond bill in fiscal 2020, and will seek to raise the remaining $8 million from the city and through private donations.

The outside of the Hippodrome. Photo by Smallbones, via Wikimedia Commons.

A popular Inner Harbor family attraction, the Maryland Science Center, is receiving $890,000 to upgrade its IMAX theater from a 70 mm film-based system to a digital projection system. While film lovers may wince at this news, the governor’s office says it will “allow the Science Center to screen many more films, as well as hold events not held previously like video gaming and film festivals.”

The Port Discovery Children’s Museum will receive $750,000, to be put toward the first phase of a project to design and install two new exhibits.

Marketing director Abbi Ludwig said in an email that those will include The Port exhibit, featuring an interactive ship where children can role-play as the ship’s captain, engineer, sailors and navigators, and learn about Baltimore’s maritime commercial center; and the four-story SkyClimber exhibit, made up of climbable platforms–surrounded by protective netting–to get kids active, use problem-solving skills and (safely) take risks.

The museum has launched a capital campaign to raise $10.5 million, in part to fund installation of the two new exhibits. The state has awarded $1 million in all, including the $750,000 approved today, to Port Discovery, and the museum has already raised $9.3 million toward its goal, Ludwig said.

And the Modell Lyric is also getting a piece of the pie that should help keep the roughly 2,500-seat venue cool when it gets packed. The release said the performing arts center will use $500,000 in grant money to replace two centrifugal chillers. In addition to keeping the room comfortable, they’ll be better-prepared to detect refrigerant leaks, which can pose a pose public health risk when freon begins leaking.

With Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford filling in today for Gov. Larry Hogan (who’s vacationing in Jamaica), the Board of Public Works approved the $6.4 million in grants for the five institutions.

All of them are funded by bond sales approved in the last General Assembly session, but each still required the sign-off of the board, which also includes Treasurer Nancy Kopp and Comptroller Peter Franchot.

“Our citizens deserve world-class institutions that promote the arts and sciences, and these iconic organizations help Baltimore City continue to serve as Maryland’s cultural center,” said Rutherford in a statement.

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...