A Message to Schmoke

April 19, 1995

The nine-member panel Kurt L. Schmoke named to review the operation of Baltimore Development Corp. has no time to waste. The mayor says he wants a revamped BDC to start operating when the new fiscal year begins in July.

We commend the mayor for having set this self-imposed deadline -- after hesitating about BDC in the face of a growing body of evidence that the city's economic development agency was in need of an overhaul.

BDC's current configuration came about in a 1991 merger, which fused the Market Center Development Corp., the Charles Center-Inner Harbor Management Corp. and the Baltimore Economic Development Corp. These agencies had such varied responsibilities that the end result was doomed to be less than satisfactory.

Mr. Schmoke could have moved earlier to rectify the obvious problems in BDC, except that he seemed happy with the way the agency interacted with his office. BDC, however, is much more than the mayor's in-house development panel. Its other important client is the business community, which has complicated -- and sometimes conflicting -- interests and demands. BDC has failed to make that difficult constituency feel it was being heard and served.

Few of the nine people the mayor chose to examine BDC can be described as disinterested parties. Anthony Hawkins, who chairs the panel, is an executive of the Rouse Co. So is another member. The Rouse Co. manages the Harborplace and Gallery shopping ventures and also has a hand in creating the new Columbus Center as well as Port Discovery, the forthcoming children's museum. For his part, Bill Struever heads the Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse development firm, which has been favored by a succession of city administrations in modernizing difficult old landmarks.

For whatever reason, Mr. Schmoke chose not to have representatives of the city's major private employers on the panel. The inclusion of such other developers as M. Jay Brodie, Elinor Bacon and Betty Jean Murphy suggests that the review committee will concentrate on finding ways to streamline the city's often cumbersome and time-consuming building process. Although some earlier steps have been taken to simplify rules, further action is needed -- particularly because Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III is moving aggressively to expedite that country's deficient permit process.

A frequent complaint about BDC -- and the Schmoke City Hall -- has been poor communication and unresponsiveness to urgent needs. If it takes a group of friends to tell Mr. Schmoke that things must improve, then we hope the nine-member panel will do so in unmistakable terms.

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