After months of deliberations, and an unprecedented joint appeal from Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Commercial Credit Corp. has decided to keep its corporate headquarters at 300 St. Paul Place in downtown Baltimore.
Company officials signed a 10-year lease yesterday for 130,000 square feet of space in the building, putting an end to speculation that Commercial Credit would follow several other companies that have moved to Baltimore County in recent years.
Effective Jan. 1, the lease ensures that Commercial Credit's staff of 400 will remain downtown and inside the 20-story building Commercial Credit constructed for itself in 1957. In 1989, after its acquisition by Primerica Corp., Commercial Credit sold the building for $25.3 million to a subsidiary of Fidelity & Deposit Co. of Maryland, which also has its headquarters there.
The 264,000-square-foot building will remain 100 percent leased as a result of the transaction, one of the largest in the downtown Baltimore office market this year. Although company officials declined to disclose the terms of the lease, they indicated that the space would be renovated as part of the lease renewal.
"We are delighted that we have reached an agreement to stay at 300 St. Paul Place," said Bill Hoffman, chief financial officer of Primerica's consumer finance division, which includes Commercial Credit. "This agreement certainly reflects our commitment to Baltimore City and will give our employees the benefit of improved office space without the disruption of moving to a new location."
"This should be considered a significant win for downtown Baltimore," said Mark L. Wasserman, Maryland's secretary of economic and employment development. "Commercial Credit should be commended for achieving its financial objectives and satisfying our public policy goals."
"We think that this shows that this very important business recognizes the importance that Mayor Schmoke and his administration place on encouraging a healthy climate" for business, said Honora Freeman, president of the Baltimore Development Corp. "We are very pleased that Commercial Credit chose to renew its lease."
According to government officials, Commercial Credit's decision to stay in Baltimore came after an 11th-hour appeal from Governor Schaefer and Mayor Schmoke, who were concerned that too many companies were moving out of downtown Baltimore and not enough was being done to keep them in the city.
Before the appeal, Commercial Credit was negotiating to become the latest occupant of the Owings Mills Corporate Campus, the same business park that has lured Baltimore Life Insurance Co. and the administrative offices of T. Rowe Price Associates Inc. The Manekin Corp., which has close ties to the Schmoke administration, was negotiating to build the new replacement facility in Owings Mills for Commercial Credit.
According to Mr. Wasserman, Commercial Credit's possible move was one of the topics of discussion when Mr. Schmoke and Mr. Schaefer met for lunch at the Center Club early last fall -- the start of a closer working relationship between the two political leaders, who have been cool toward each other.
"During lunch, the mayor and the governor discussed their mutual and common concerns about recent losses of major corporate presences downtown, and they pledged to each other that this was an area where they could work together and reverse the trend," Mr. Wasserman said.
After the meeting, "it was immediately made clear to key people in the business community that the governor and the mayor would do what they could to encourage Commercial Credit to remain downtown," Mr. Wasserman said.
With the city taking the lead, he said, representatives from both the Schaefer and Schmoke administrations met with Commercial Credit officials to see "what it would require in order to get them to stay downtown." Mr. Wasserman said government representatives were prepared to discuss the possibility of creating an economic incentive package to help keep Commercial Credit in Baltimore, but it never came to that.
He said the effort on the governor's part was more on the level of "moral suasion," by sending "a signal that he would view it dimly if Commercial Credit moved elsewhere. He clearly made his interest known."
Ms. Freeman said she and her staff discussed with Commercial Credit principals "what we call the 'urban advantage' -- the fact that we have the work force, the transportation systems, and the quality-of-life benefits that would make it important for their employees to be here, in what we consider a very thriving and vibrant downtown area."