The former Baltimore Marine Hospital on Wyman Park Drive will be renovated for academic use by Johns Hopkins University, which once planned to tear down the 1930s-era structure. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

Johns Hopkins University plans to make over a 1930s-era hospital building on the edge of its Homewood campus that was originally established by Congress to care for sick and disabled seamen.

The building, originally the 290-bed Baltimore Marine Hospital, has served many public, private, and university purposes over the decades. It was marked for demolition at one point to make way for several Johns Hopkins health system buildings, but university officials say they plan to keep the structure.

“Johns Hopkins has determined the building offers tremendous value and will remain,” Lee Coyle, the university’s senior director of planning and architecture, said in a statement. “We are currently exploring options for how best to renovate and repurpose the facility for long term use.”

A City Council committee on Wednesday voted to repeal a planned-unit development that had been drawn up in the 1980s to allow Hopkins to level the building and turn the property into something of a medical campus that includes much taller buildings. The full council still must give final approval.

The new plan calls for renovations to the hospital building and development of another structure that will serve as home to a new institute dedicated to improving civic engagement and public discourse.

Officials had been looking for a place to construct a building for the program since the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins was established in 2017 with a $150 million gift from the nonprofit organization. They announced the Wyman Park location in December for the institute, which is part of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.

All the uses for the old hospital building have not been established, although several university departments have offices there now, including the Krieger school, as well as the Whiting School of Engineering and the Department of Economics.

The building on Wyman Park Drive was built as the Baltimore Marine Hospital in 1934 and was the second-largest marine hospital in the country, according to Johns Hopkins history.

The marine hospital system later became part of the U.S. Public Health Service that provided care for the military and retirees. When public hospitals shuttered across the country in the 1980s, the community opposed closing the local building. It became a private provider called the Wyman Park Health System, still serving military retirees but also the community.

The system later merged with Hopkins-affiliated doctors’ of­fices called the Johns Hopkins Community Physicians, although the physicians moved to new offices in nearby Remington Row in 2016. That left the old hospital to the university for offices.

State land records show the building has close to 170,000 square feet of space and is valued for assessment purposes at more than $17.5 million.

The university’s plan to keep the structure has won praise from preservationists and neighbors.

“We applaud Hopkins for retaining the former Baltimore Marine Hospital and continuing to put it to good use,” said Johns Hopkins, executive director of Baltimore Heritage. “It is a large and handsome historic building that has played an active and important role in the neighborhood for many years, and it’s great to hear that it will continue to do so.”

Jed Weeks, a board member of the Greater Remington Improvement Association who serves on the group’s land use committee, said the neighborhood group is pleased with Hopkins’s decision “to preserve and restore an iconic and historic neighborhood building like the Marine Hospital instead of tearing it down.”

He also said the organization supports plans to replace the adjacent parking lot with a new building for the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute.

Hopkins announced in September that the institute would be designed by Renzo Piano, a world-renowned architect from Italy.

The move to preserve the old hospital also drew praise from Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who was a state delegate when the government shut the public health hospitals and says he understands the public’s concern for the property.

“Preserving Baltimore’s unique history has long been a priority of mine, and I am glad to see that the renovation of the Wyman Park Health Center is apparently in our future,” he said.

Cardin said he would work to sustain tools such as the Historic Tax Credit “to preserve historically relevant sites.” He noted he advanced legislation this week to protect Baltimore’s President Street Station, a historic train terminal near Harbor East that is home to the city’s Civil War Museum, and P.S. 103 in Upton, where Thurgood Marshall, the nation’s first black Supreme Court justice went to school.

City Council member Mary Pat Clarke, who sponsored the bill to repeal the PUD, said she didn’t anticipate any objections in the council’s land use and transportation committee hearing or with the full council after that.

She said she’s pleased the old building will remain and the new building will be built.

The PUD, Clarke said, would have allowed several tall buildings, which was too much for the neighboring community. With its repeal, the site’s zoning will revert to its educational campus designation. That means the density and heights will be less and some open areas will stay, which she said could remain “shared space” with the community.

“It’s all good and exciting, and there won’t be all those tall buildings looming over the rowhouses,” Clarke said. “So now they’re saving a building and bringing in another institute, and its purpose is civic engagement. It’s so timely. And the public will be invited into events and discussions. . . . It’s not just good; it’s great.”

— Baltimore Sun