Impatient city business community

April 09, 1992

These are unhappy times in many businesses. Recovery may be around the corner but improvement is still infuriatingly slow. Business is not the only area experiencing a loss of direction. Government is at a crossroads. Yet politicians have lost their bearings and balk at making the difficult decisions. Whatever happened to leadership?

This situation has led to some talk in Baltimore of reviving a chamber of commerce, which existed here until 1977, when it was merged into the Greater Baltimore Committee. Interestingly, the chief advocate for the separate chamber of commerce is a politician. Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge has even introduced a City Council resolution to re-establish the chamber.

Exactly what the proposed chamber should be is not clear.

"There is a perception that the GBC only looks after big business," says Mr. Ambridge. "I know many people who feel there is room for a chamber."

According to Fletcher Hall, executive director of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, "There is a need for a cheerleader for the city and a need to bring smaller and larger groups together."

The most detailed proposal so far has come from Edwin Warfield IV, publisher of the Daily Record. He thinks the Downtown Partnership, a management and booster organization for properties along Charles Street and other commercial arteries, could be easily turned into a chamber of commerce. "Right now Baltimore's small and minority businesses need enthusiasm and day-to-day support -- not ivory tower vision," he wrote recently.

These are interesting observations. They indicate dissatisfaction with the perception or reality of GBC's work. But they also fail to present a convincing case for a rival organization that could weaken the voice of Baltimore's business community at City Hall as well as in Annapolis. If today's GBC is flawed, its shortcomings are easier to correct than it is to build a costly new organization that would essentially duplicate much of its current work.

The proposal to use the Downtown Partnership as a launching pad for a separate chamber of commerce seems particularly unpromising. Because of the recently authorized special tax district in its operational area, the partnership will be in flux for months to come. It could become a quasi-governmental body. In any case, having a tax district double as a chamber of commerce would confuse two very different roles that probably cannot be combined. A chamber of commerce as a taxing authority? Not likely.

Still, we welcome this debate. The impatience it conveys shows that Baltimore's business community is not content with the status quo. We hope the GBC and the area's political leaders are listening -- and start responding.

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