City Planning Reshuffle

November 27, 1990

By naming David M. Gillece acting president of Center City-Inner Harbor Development Corp., Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke now has his own appointees in charge of the city's three major development agencies. Does this mean that he is finally ready to put his stamp on a process that was crafted and fine-tuned during William Donald Schaefer's 15-year tenure as mayor?

Signs point in that direction. For example, the mayor has asked Mr. Gillece to report within 45 days about merging the Baltimore Economic Development Corp. into Center City. This indicates Center City's days as a largely independent entity are over. It will be more tightly under the Schmoke administration's overall planning umbrella. Not only will its functions change but so will those of the planning and housing departments.

This reshuffling is long overdue.

Since he came to power three years ago, Mayor Schmoke has never clearly stated how he wants these overlapping and competing planning groups to relate. This has led to duplication and second-guessing. The resulting confusion may be why so many developers complain about the way the city handles their projects -- an ironic twist because the Schmoke regime has been nearly as pro-development as was former Mayor Schaefer.

What today is the Center Inner-Inner Harbor agency emerged three decades ago as a facilitator of Baltimore's dramatic face lift, which started at Charles Center and spread to the waterfront. As the Inner Harbor has been rebuilt, development challenges have spread elsewhere -- to places like Canton and Bayview, Port Covington and the Central Avenue corridor near Little Italy. Future opportunities may be even farther from downtown.

With federal aid disappearing, Center City's influence has declined. It no longer owns (or dishes out) pivotal land parcels but instead acts as a clearinghouse. Has its role changed so much that its scope should be broadened -- or that the city's economic promotion agency could be comfortably merged into it? These are questions Mr. Gillece must answer.

Considering all that is at stake, Mr. Gillece should invite public input. That would not interfere with the mayor's ability to make the changes he deems necessary. Instead, it would give the community and the city council some assurance that the right decisions are being made.

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