Governor spends $101,260 on his new city offices

September 10, 1995|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writer

The old offices didn't suit Maryland's new governor.

Parris N. Glendening recently spent about $52,800 to refurbish the peeling paint, cracked plaster and threadbare carpets in his State House suite, a restoration that is still in progress.

Now the Democrat from Prince George's County has dropped an additional $101,260 in taxpayers' money to furnish a flashy gubernatorial outpost on the 23rd floor of a state-owned skyscraper in downtown Baltimore.

The new digs near the top of 6 St. Paul St. reflect the generational shift in style from the 73-year-old William Donald Schaefer to the 53-year-old Mr. Glendening.

Compared with the vista from atop 301 W. Preston St., the drab and boxy state office building that had been the Baltimore office for Mr. Schaefer and other Maryland governors for 36 years, the view from Mr. Glendening's new downtown roost is breathtaking.

It stretches from the Bromo Seltzer Tower and the Camden Yards stadium to the southwest, past the USF&G tower and the green Legg Mason building to the National Aquarium in Baltimore and the Inner Harbor. To the east, the Patapsco River winds its way under the Key Bridge. Beyond are the Sparrows Point steel plant and, finally, the faintly visible Chesapeake Bay.

This stunning panorama can be observed from any of the 40 chairs arranged around the huge U-shaped table in the governor's new glass-walled conference room. The room features a ceiling-mounted, electronically powered projector screen that, when down, temporarily obscures the gargoyles and other art deco ornamentation on the upper floors of the 34-story NationsBank Building across the street.

Downtown, Mr. Glendening has said, is a better place than Preston Street to show off the state to business executives and visiting dignitaries. As the first Maryland governor from the Washington suburbs in more than a century, Mr. Glendening decided before his inauguration to demonstrate his interest in Baltimore by promising to spend two days a week in the city

when the General Assembly was not in session.

However, he made it clear that he had no intention of spending that time in the offices that previous governors have used on the 15th floor at Preston Street.

Too dull, boring and depressing, Mr. Glendening said of Preston Street, a 1950s-style complex across town from the city's more vibrant harborside financial and business district.

After his November election, the governor-elect's transition team operated out of offices on the 22nd floor of 6 St. Paul, and Mr. Glendening fell in love with the view.

State officials bought the 27-story former Merritt Tower for $12.2 million in 1994, renamed it the William Donald Schaefer Tower and urged the namesake governor to move his offices there.

But it was too near the end of Mr. Schaefer's final term. Besides, Mr. Schaefer was more comfortable in the workmanlike setting of Preston Street. He was fond of eating lunch in the cafeteria, where he could take the pulse of state workers. A fancy office downtown was not his style.

Just as Mr. Schaefer rejected 6 St. Paul, so Mr. Glendening rejected -- with equal enthusiasm -- Preston Street. Not his style.

"I think Parris thought it was important to be here if he is selling the state -- to be downtown," said his deputy chief of staff, Michele T. Rozner.

The 23rd floor, where the top of the needlepoint building begins to narrow, was a vacant, uncompleted shell. It had a concrete floor and no interior walls. The state quickly was filling the building with agencies that had been leasing space elsewhere and would have had to spend money to convert the 23rd floor into offices regardless of who moved in.

But the special requirements of the governor's office -- hardwood floors, drapes, individual bathrooms for the governor and lieutenant governor, glass walls and a fully equipped kitchen next to the conference room -- pushed up the basic cost by $76,803.

Gubernatorial-quality furniture, including a $2,650 sofa, a pair of $1,335 armchairs and a couple of $694 side tables, added $24,457, according to figures provided by Ms. Rozner. Several pieces of furniture, including the governor's light-grain wood desk, were purchased from State Use Industries, where furniture is manufactured by prison inmates.

Ms. Rozner said the administration saved money wherever it could. For example, the U-shaped conference table and chairs were moved from Preston Street.

Expensive mauve and Burgundy carpets made specially for the Preston Street office, including one featuring the official seal of Maryland, also were moved but had to be cut down to size to fit the new quarters. The phone system from Preston Street was transferred.

Furniture for Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's adjacent but slightly smaller office was moved from elsewhere.

Ms. Rozner said the state is saving about $3.3 million a year by moving 16 agencies that had been renting space elsewhere into 6 St. Paul and three other departments to the 15th floor of Preston Street. About 1,200 state employees work at 6 St. Paul, although there is parking for only about 60.

The main tenant is the Mass Transit Administration, which occupies several floors, including the 27th, where MTA's conference room offers a top-of-the-world view even more dramatic than Mr. Glendening's.

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