One on One is a weekly feature offering excerpts of interviews conducted by The Evening Sun with newsworthy business leaders. David Gillece, president of Baltimore Economic Development Corp., was asked by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke last week to become acting president of Center City Inner Harbor Management Co. and explore merging the two quasi-public development agencies.
Q.What is the role of BEDCO and how does it differ from the objectives of Center City-Inner Harbor Management Co.?
A.BEDCO is the City of Baltimore's economic development agency with responsibility for retaining and attracting business throughout the city. Center City-Inner Harbor Management Co. has some of the same missions but obviously its geographic scope is limited to downtown. So our missions don't conflict. To some degree, they overlap because BEDCO worries about downtown businesses as well as businesses that would be located out in the industrial parks or somewhere else around town.
Q. What are the budgets for the two agencies?
A. To tell you the truth, I haven't looked at them yet. They're roughly comparable. BEDCO has an annual operating budget of about $1.3 million a year and I think Center City's is about $1.7 million.
Q. What is the bulk of the money used for, excluding salaries?
A. Well, if you exclude salaries, most of it is used for rent. Development agencies are a little different in looking at their budgets because personnel in normal operating expenses is over 90 percent of the operating budget of a development agency. What that doesn't show, however, is development agencies also are the agencies that implement an awful lot of the city's capital budget program. So, for example, the voters just approved another $7.5 million of economic development bonds last week. And many of those bond proceeds will be overseen by BEDCO in the development of Port Covington Industrial Park. So the operating budget only tells a part of the story of what we do and where we spend our money.
Q. Market Center Development Corp. and the Charles Street-Inner Harbor Management Corp. merged to become Center City. Do you think some of the business needs were lost?
A. That's a question which I should get an answer to when I assume my new duties. I think one of the concerns any time you see a merger of any two operations is, does the focus get lost and does one-half of the equation suffer? From an outsider's perspective, I see an awful lot of activity today, both in the traditional Charles Center district as well as the Market Center district, so at least on balance, I don't see either half of that equation having been ignored since the merger.
Q. How long do you think it will take to determine if the two agencies should be merged?
A. I suspect that depends on how impatient the mayor is with me.
Q. Well, hasn't the council has been very impatient with the mayor?
A. Absolutely. My guess is that I'd like to be able to make an assessment, with some consultation of the private sector, who are our clients in this endeavor, but within about a 45-day period. At least, I'll be able to come back with an informal and preliminary assessment to the mayor as to whether a merger makes sense or doesn't.
Q. Well, you might have already answered it, but what will you need to do to make that assessment? Or should I say who do you need to talk to?
A. I think that the feasibility of a merger needs to be looked at on a variety of levels. One is to take a look at the missions and programs of the two organizations and make an honest assessment as to compatibility. Two, to take a look at the actual operations, staffing and the like, and see if those two cultures can be successfully brought together. And then third is to look to your client base. In the development world, our client base is basically the corporate community and development community who are investing in Baltimore, downtown or otherwise. We need to get a sense from them as to how they would feel about a merged operation. So they're really the three things we need to ** look at in the next 45 days.
tTC Q. What would be your priorities if the agencies were merged? Where can we look for the next big development push in the city?
A. I'll probably be better able to answer that question in 45 days, but my thinking today is that there are two major priorities. One is to maintain and enhance the responsiveness and professionalism of the two agencies. Because if you don't have that, you don't have anything to deliver. But the second priority, I think, is to position the City of Baltimore and its downtown as the competitive player that it is -- to have the private sector and the development sector take a new fresh look at what investment in Baltimore might mean to them, because I am absolutely convinced that we are a great buy and a great value.
Q. Are we talking about a true merger or would it be a BEDCO with expanded services?