Pulling together for downtown Baltimore's heart: To keep it beating, comprehensive strategies are needed.

November 12, 1995

BALTIMORE IS LUCKY to have a group like Downtown Partnership, which engages impressive numbers of business and civic leaders in efforts to upgrade the central business district. But that is not enough. With the reorganization of Baltimore Development Corp., Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke should make the promotion of overall economic development -- particularly downtown -- the centerpiece of his administration.

During his general election campaign, Mr. Schmoke made all the right noises about establishing new bridges to the city's business community. There is real potential for a new relationship and understanding among Baltimore's business, civic and political leaders.

The challenges are awesome. A just-released "pro-business plan" and report from the Downtown Partnership faults Baltimore, which was so successful with initial Inner Harbor redevelopment, for missing the boat with entertainment-oriented, second-generation projects that have been successful in other struggling cities. This comes at a time when Baltimore's center is no longer the only "downtown" in the region. Such "edge city" downtowns as Columbia, Owings Mills, White Marsh and Towson have duplicated many of its functions.

Because they are perceived as safer, cheaper or more convenient, these suburban centers are stealing jobs and offices from Baltimore's downtown. The situation is not encouraging: Downtown's assessable base has declined more than 30 percent in the last three years.

Fortunately for Baltimore, the move of the National Football League's Browns to Camden Yards provides an opportunity for a campaign to strengthen downtown viability. So do such new attractions as the American Visionary Art Museum, the Christopher Columbus marine biotechnology center and the Port Discovery children's center. The successful residential development at Montgomery Square and the expansion of Coldspring near Cylburn Arboretum prove that middle-class residents will buy in the city if they are offered what they want.

The Downtown Partnership's 63-page report provides a blueprint for Baltimore as the city approaches the 1997 bicentennial of its incorporation. The best way to implement it is for City Hall and the business community to pull together in a new spirit of cooperation.

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