Swirnow's moment of truth

July 30, 1993

It would seem incongruous that the developer of a medical trade mart that has been unable to get off the ground for three years is seeking more land for expansion. But, then, the $600 million International Life Sciences Center that businessman Richard Swirnow is talking about building near Oriole Park at Camden Yards is not a run-of-the-mill development project.

Nothing of the kind currently exists in the world. A rival partnership was preparing plans to build a similar one-stop shopping center for the latest in medical technology, pharmaceutical know-how and training in Tokyo, but it is stalled by the Japanese recession. Yet demand for such a visionary meeting place of medical minds and merchants exists, Mr. Swirnow told a recent meeting of the Downtown Partnership. But to succeed it has to be big and capable of expanding further.

That's why Mr. Swirnow and his Singapore-based investment partners, the Parkway Group Ltd., would now like to have the rights to develop the city-owned blocks bounded by Paca, Pratt, Howard and Camden streets. (This was some of the land reserved for the headquarters of the U.S. Health Care Financing Administration, which decided against moving from the county to the city.)

Never mind that the partnership's previous exclusive rights for downtown parcels have either expired or soon will. "We are now on a roll," declared Mr. Swirnow, whose investors bankrolled the HarborView high-rise condominium that is nearing completion near Federal Hill.

The way Mr. Swirnow tells it, his partners are anxious to build the MedMart but require assurances that the Clinton administration's health reform measures will not unduly endanger their investment. Coming from Southeast Asia, those investors also would prefer to deal with design solutions they are familiar with and find attractive -- such as a major hotel built on top of the new Convention Center addition or high-rise construction in general. (So far, planners have emphatically nixed the former request).

Another Baltimore project is attractive to Southeast Asian investors because of financial uncertainties caused by the forthcoming Chinese takeover of Hong Kong and political instability in many other countries. For the city, getting a unique global medical market place and training facility clearly would promise all kinds of economic benefits.

As other developers are beginning to exhibit an interest in the area around Camden Yards, time is running out on the Swirnow partnership. It has to put up or shut up.

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