Pointless Parochialism

August 31, 1991

Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden and Rep. Helen Delich Bentley are strenuously protesting Baltimore City's campaign to move the Health Care Financing Administration downtown from its present site in Woodlawn. Mr. Hayden contends the city is "muddying the waters" by offering a prime two-acre site to a city construction team bidding on the project. He says this amounts to "discrimination against county sites." Mrs. Bentley -- who sits on the subcommittee that overseas government building projects -- has vowed to use her clout to keep the agency in the county.

Is the city wrong in its spirited pursuit of HCFA? We think not. Two years ago, the federal government decided to consolidate its sprawling Woodlawn operation in a single building in downtown Baltimore or in the county. The city, which is finding it increasingly difficult to attract private development dollars, has mounted a full-court press to win the $93 million project. Mr. Hayden and Mrs. Bentley can hardly be faulted for attempting to retain county jobs, but their protests seem a bit shrill. This is hardly the first time the city has offered a competitive development package.

Deals like this one, in fact, helped make the Inner Harbor a reality. Not being prepared to match the Schmoke administration's efforts is understandable, especially in these trying financial times. But crying foul is neither fair nor productive.

Certainly, losing this contest would be a tough break for Baltimore County. It stands to lose 3,000 jobs and will undoubtedly be left with a hard-to-fill office complex. Nearby businesses would be deprived of an estimated $12 million a year generated by employee lunches, shopping, gasoline purchases and the like.

As a practical matter, the county has far less to lose than the city. Having this federal health-care agency occupy a city parcel bounded by Paca, Pratt, Eutaw and Camden streets would fit neatly into the city's new quest for identity as a life sciences center. Both the University of Maryland Medical System and the proposed National Medical Mart would be a stone's throw away. Moreover, HFCA officials would be within a block's walk of a commuter-rail link to other federal offices in downtown Washington. This argues powerfully in favor of the Schmoke administration's willingness to do what it takes -- including offering a valuable site -- to win the agency.

The Baltimore metropolitan region's needs are ill-served by intra-regional parochialism at a time when the region is losing clout in Annapolis to the Washington suburbs. There's nothing wrong with a little healthy gamesmanship, but the city and county would be foolish to let things get out of hand. What really matters is that this important asset retains a Baltimore address.

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