Development chief hopes to stay despite critics

March 01, 1994|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun Staff Writer

One year ago, avid sailor Miguel A. Ferrer Roig took the helm of the city's economic development office. Today he is holding his course, despite criticism from city business and political leaders.

The Greater Annapolis Chamber of Commerce, which gave him a frosty reception in his first two weeks in the job, refuses to comment. Several city aldermen are unimpressed.

"What's the guy's name?" asked Alderman Samuel Gilmer, a Democrat from Ward 3, who questioned the need for an economic development coordinator two weeks ago when Mr. Ferrer's contract was extended by four months.

Alderman Theresa DeGraff, a Republican from Ward 7, said she couldn't remember anything Mr. Ferrer had done.

Alderman Carl O. Snowden, a Democrat from Ward 5, said he believes the economic development job is necessary, but is not sure Mr. Ferrer is the one for the job.

"We need somebody who can be respected and be a liaison with the business groups," he said.

But Mr. Ferrer, who admits he got off to a rough start when chamber members criticized his strategy as too vague in their first meeting, said those complaining about him now are "making criticisms without really knowing the facts."

"I will compare my record with anybody in the East Coast," he says.

And Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins, who created the economic development job to fulfill an election-year promise, said he is pleased with Mr. Ferrer.

"Take a walk with me and I'll show you what stores he has filled," said Mr. Hopkins, who plans to ask the City Council to renew Mr. Ferrer's contract and give him a raise.

A native of Madrid, Spain, Mr. Ferrer, 34, has lived in the United States since 1975. He graduated from Towson State University and from the Kogod College of Business Administration at the American University.

Prior to coming to work for the city, he directed the tour of three replicas of the ships Christopher Columbus sailed to the New World. The tour was canceled before the final leg because of delays and shortage of money.

Mr. Ferrer took the $36,000-a-year job working for the city to stay near his home in the Annapolis historic district.

When he started work last March 1, Mr. Ferrer says, he walked down Main Street and counted 13 vacant stores. "I was shocked that the city had fallen into such disrepair," he says.

He proudly notes that all but four Main Street stores are filled or are under contract. He says he has brought an average of eight new businesses to the city each month he has been on the job.

In addition to Main Street, he has tried to find ways to encourage the city's maritime industry and develop a strategy for West Street.

He also is asking for a raise to $60,000 a year, an increase council members say is unlikely to be approved.

Without a raise, Mr. Ferrer says, hedoesn't know whether he would stay. He is in the midst of a number of economic development plans. He wants to attract a movie theater downtown and is working with a company that wants to open a micro-brewery.

Alderman Ellen O. Moyer, chairwoman of the council's Finance Committee, praised Mr. Ferrer for helping guide entrepreneurs through the city's permit process and for working to attract maritime events to the city.

"I think Miguel is very creative," she said.

His relationship with the Annapolis Business Coalition apparently is better than with the chamber, although the coalition leadership does not seem wildly enthusiastic about Mr. Ferrer.

Sharon Russian, president of the coalition, acknowledges that Mr. Ferrer has helped fill downtown stores. "I think he did the best he could."

But she said his intensity seems to have cooled. "I have not seem much of him of late," she said.

Mr. Ferrer has had little say in the city's latest economic development proposal -- a conference and visitors center. City Administrator Michael Mallinoff is the city's representative on a conference center planning committee.

Nevertheless, Tom Negri, president of the committee, said he believes Mr. Ferrer has done a good job. "Being the first is a challenge in and of itself," he said.

Lynn Dulin, a commercial consultant with Champion Realty, which has leased spaces to a number of new businesses downtown, said Mr. Ferrer should be given credit for filling vacancies.

"I really think he has been an advocate for the business community," she said.

She noted that he has interceded when businesses were bogged down in the permit process, helping them win timely approvals.

"His door is always open. I get returned calls the same day if not the same hour," she said. "And he's certainly on the street every day."

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