Keller quits GBC to take Detroit job He'll lead blue-chip development group

April 15, 1993|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Staff Writer

Robert Keller, who for 11 years has directed the Greater Baltimore Committee, today will be named president of Detroit Renaissance Inc., that city's blue-chip economic development group.

Mr. Keller, a 51-year-old Baltimore native, flew to Detroit yesterday afternoon for an official announcement this morning. Alfred Glancy, the Detroit Renaissance chairman, declined to talk to reporters before today's news conference.

The GBC was formed in 1954 to help revitalize a troubled downtown Baltimore. With 800 business members and some of Maryland's most important executives, it is recognized as the state's most powerful private economic development group.

During Mr. Keller's tenure, the group has worked to develop a new life sciences industry here, lobbied for increased state aid for the city, worked to improve the city's public schools and pushed for a National Football League expansion team.

More recently, however, smaller businesses have complained that the GBC, which absorbed the old Chamber of Commerce in 1978, has failed to address their needs. A new Baltimore Chamber of Commerce was recently organized to deal with small firms' interests.

Despite this recent criticism, GBC members yesterday had nothing but praise for Mr. Keller.

"The loss of Bob Keller is a setback," said Decatur H. Miller,

managing partner of the Baltimore law firm of Piper & Marbury and current chairman of the GBC.

"Clearly an enormous amount of credit belongs to Bob for what we have accomplished," Mr. Miller said.

William L. Jews, recently named president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland and the vice chairman of the GBC board of directors, said yesterday that a search group will be formed to choose Mr. Keller's successor.

Mr. Keller said yesterday that he was contacted early this year by a search firm looking for candidates to head Detroit Renaissance. He leaves the GBC May 7 and will start work in Detroit May 17.

Detroit Renaissance was founded in 1970 by Henry Ford. Its membership, about 40 companies, is smaller than the GBC's, but the members are among the country's biggest firms. "An A-plus list," Mr. Keller said. In addition, Detroit has a Chamber of Commerce with about 10,000 member companies.

Mr. Keller said he was sorry to leave Baltimore and would leave the GBC "a very credible organization that knows how to get things done, that's not afraid to take risks."

The GBC's most recent redevelopment strategy for Baltimore -- creation of a life sciences industry -- "will, I'm absolutely convinced, help make this community healthy in the 21st century," he said.

Mr. Keller said it was unfair to blame him, or the GBC, for continuing social and economic problems in Baltimore.

GBC's initiatives haven't always succeeded, but, he added, "All cities that I know of are in a very fragile position now, and we do need to work to build up a different economic base."

In addition, Mr. Keller conceded that there have been drastic changes in Baltimore's business leadership in the past couple of years.

Corporate leaders resigned or retired, and several local companies regrouped or were sold to out-of-state interests -- leading some observers to say that the GBC board is less powerful and effective than before.

"It [the leadership] has changed, but it has not weakened," he said.

Mr. Keller said he was looking forward to his new job, despite Detroit's reputation as a city in decline.

"Name one city that isn't going through enormous problems, including this one. To go to a place that believes -- partly correctly and partly incorrectly -- that it's in distress is kind of a kick. It gets the adrenalin going."

Before he joined the GBC in October, 1981, Mr. Keller was a reporter and then an editor at The Evening Sun. In the decade since, Baltimore has changed -- going through a renaissance, followed by a loss of momentum after Washington cut urban aid programs and the national economy went into decline.

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