New ways of thinking

Frank A. DeFilippo

February 21, 1991|By Frank A. DeFilippo

THREE events are about to occur that may change the way Marylanders think and do business.

The first is the creation on paper of "Balwash" (or "Washbal") -- the combination of Baltimore and Washington in a single megalopolis, primarily for business purposes. It will be the fourth largest in the nation after Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.

The second is a plan being devised by the Schaefer administration to create a single authority that would assume control of all of the state's assets in and around the Inner Harbor.

And the third is the proposed merger of Maryland Economic Growth Associates (MEGA) with the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, with MEGA president Donald P. Hutchinson assuming the presidency of the state chamber.

When the federal government announces the union of Baltimore and Washington in a single metropolitan area, it will be straining mental barriers that have existed since Maryland donated the land for the nation's capital. Each area has its own peculiar flavor of xenophobia.

The merger will force the Greater Baltimore Committee and the Washington Board of Trade to co-exist as equals if they can co-exist at all. The coming together will also raise such profound questions as why Baltimore should be awarded an NFL franchise when Washington has the Redskins and why Washington should be allotted a baseball team when Baltimore has the Orioles. And such banalities as whether to merge the Center Club and the Metropolitan Club have also crossed the lips of some who are caught in the squeeze.

On another front, topsiders in the Schaefer administration are quietly working on a plan that would create a state super-authority to take over and run much of the city's prime downtown real estate. In operation and structure, it would resemble the authorities in New York created by master-planner Robert Moses and would probably create a prime job for someone now around Schaefer when the governor's current and final term is over.

The creation of a state-run authority would virtually establish a city within a city and enhance the state's real estate portfolio. The state now owns or controls the New Community College of Baltimore, the World Trade Center, the city's bus and subway systems and the new sports complex, among others. Schaefer has proposed a state takeover of the City Jail and the Baltimore Zoo. And state highway officials are pushing to build a new headquarters at the Camden yards site of the new ballpark.

In his state of the state address, Schaefer urged greater cooperation between the city and the state in the continuing development of the city's harbor. The city is currently working with private developers to build a colony of houses and marinas along the remaining shoreline from the Inner Harbor to Canton.

Given the testy relationship between Schaefer and Mayor Schmoke, it is difficult to foresee whether such a city-state symbiosis would flourish or founder or even whether Schmoke would be agreeable to such a land grab.

MEGA is the former economic development component of the Greater Baltimore Committee. It was spun off and reconstituted as a private economic development organization at the insistence of Jack Moseley, who recently retired as chairman and chief executive officer of USF&G. Hutchinson has headed MEGA since he left office as Baltimore County executive in 1986.

It was Moseley's intention when he founded MEGA to create an organization in his own image that would pack political as well as economic wallop in Annapolis and other capitals at home and abroad.

But MEGA has fallen on hard times since it lost its patron and can't collect much of the dues it needs to fund its $1 million annual operating budget. At the same time, Peter Lombardi is retiring as president of the Maryland chamber. It is a marriage made in local boardrooms, if not in heaven.

For the past several months, Hutchinson has been negotiating the details of folding MEGA into the state chamber. That Hutchinson will succeed Lombardi when he retires as chamber president in August is already considered a done deal. In masterminding the merger, Hutchinson elbowed aside Dennis Rasmussen, his successor as county executive who was defeated last November. Rasmussen was also seeking employment as the chamber president.

When the merger of MEGA and the chamber is complete, the two dominant business organizations in Maryland will be the Greater Baltimore Committee and the Maryland Chamber of Commerce. Both have overlapping memberships and occasionally have different agendas.

And with the confluence of events, other business groups such as the Baltimore-Washington Regional Association and the Maryland Business for Responsive Government are likely to diminish in significance if not disappear altogether.

What the coming changes signal is that a new generation of business people with new ideas is wresting power from the aging captains of industry.

Maryland and Baltimore may never be the same.

Frank A. DeFilippo writes regularly on Maryland politics.

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