Alex. Brown & Sons Inc. is Baltimore. The investment banking firm was instrumental in building this city and state. It financed early industries, it bankrolled the B&O Railroad. For that reason, confirmation that the firm is shopping for a new headquarters -- and does not rule out leaving downtown Baltimore -- is alarming.
Whether Alex. Brown is serious or just driving a hard bargain, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke must do everything to make sure the firm stays here. Otherwise, Baltimore's downtown will suffer a terrible psychological and economic loss.
Too many significant corporations have moved out of the city, taking away badly needed jobs. A firm like Alex. Brown is far more than its payroll. It supports a variety of other businesses -- from lawyers to restaurants. Without this trickle-down, downtown will wither.
Alex. Brown, founded here in 1800, currently occupies a modest landmark building at 135 East Baltimore Street that survived the Great Fire of 1904. Because of the regional surplus of office space, it can be picky about its new home.
Mayor Schmoke was told six months ago that Alex. Brown was looking for a new headquarters building. Concerned, he reportedly twice asked the company about its plans and was told the firm was not considering moving out of the city when its current leases expire in March of 1997.
Yet Alex. Brown Chief Executive Officer Alvin B. "Buzzy" Krongard now says "we're looking at any and all alternatives."
The firm has even scouted Pier 4's Power Plant. That vacant hulk, another survivor of the Great Fire, once generated power for the old United Railway and Electric Co., which in turn was controlled by Alex. Brown. The main thing is for the city to convince Alex. Brown that its future lies in its home town. If the banking firm stays, it could serve as a reassuring symbol for out-of-state corporations thinking of relocating here.
Throughout his tenure, Mayor Schmoke has been criticized by the business community for being inaccessible and lukewarm to their concerns. As the city prepares for the bicentennial of its incorporation in 1997, it would be tragic to see one of Baltimore's leading corporations desert the city in that very year.