Put Fizz Back in City Development

July 11, 1995

Now it is up to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

A committee he appointed to recommend changes in the Baltimore Development Corp. has prepared an explosive draft report that prompted a case of jitters at City Hall. It is easy to see why.

Although compiled by developers friendly toward Mr. Schmoke, the report harshly criticizes Baltimore's economic development efforts during his eight years in office.

"BDC is a reactive organization relying on crisis management as contrasted with a focused entity operating within a clear strategic framework," the report says, adding: "Some of BDC's professional staff lacks necessary qualifications for economic development work."

As to the mayor, the committee says that he "must place more emphasis on demonstrating to business and community stakeholders that economic development is a city priority."

This is not the kind of assessment that delights a politician seeking re-election. Yet Mr. Schmoke had better listen. Numerous business leaders and institutions -- including The Sun -- have told him over the years that Baltimore is missing the boat in its economic development efforts because BDC is unfocused, overworked, unresponsive and filled with incompetents. This cannot continue.

The Schmoke panel recommends that BDC be charged with industrial and commercial business retention and attraction activities throughout the city and with physical development in an area bounded by the Fallsway, Centre Street, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and the Inner Harbor.

Many of its secondary functions would be transferred to other city agencies and private groups. If implemented, the recommendation would mean such entities as the Downtown Partnership and the Chamber of Commerce would handle some of BDC's current promotion and management tasks.

Another key recommendation concerns the independence of BDC. A 1991 reorganization tied it closely to Shapiro and Olander, the law firm founded by Mr. Schmoke's chief fund-raiser which also employs his campaign manager. Indeed, Honora Freeman, who headed BDC for three-and-a-half years until April, came from that law firm.

"BDC has not had the independence needed to succeed in a highly entrepreneurial environment," the study panel pointedly noted.

It is time to put fizz back in BDC. Mayor Schmoke should act on the common-sense recommendations advocated by his panel.

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