How Brodie would revive city

January 28, 1996

MOVING TO jump-start Baltimore's stalled revitalization effort, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke hired M. Jay Brodie to head the Baltimore Development Corp., the quasi-public agency responsible for retaining and luring city businesses.

An architect and planner, Mr. Brodie, 59, served as housing commissioner for then-mayor William Donald Schaefer from 1977-84 and moved on to become executive director of Washington's Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp. (PADC). For the past two years he was a senior vice president with the architectural firm RTKL Associates.

Under former president Honora Freeman, BDC was widely criticized for being ineffective and suffering from leadership problems. The agency has been revamped so its 36-member staff reports to a board headed by Roger Lipitz, former chairman of Meridian Healthcare Inc. Previously, the BDC president reported directly to the mayor.

Mr. Brodie discussed the challenges facing BDC and the city during a recent interview with staff writer Edward Gunts.

How will this organization be different under your leadership?

Part of the new situation is not simply myself as president. It's the [creation] of a major private sector board, a first-rate board. That's very important. That means that we're going to have to understand the way we do business with a board. Boards set policies. Staffs do a lot of hard work but are there to implement policy and make policy recommendations to the board.

I saw that as a very effective relationship at PADC, where the board played an important role, was able to open doors for us, help get things smoothed out, and get approvals quickly. . . . I think the creation of an effective board, with a first rate chairman at its head, with energy and dedication, is an important move.

How can Baltimore get to be perceived as being "on the move" again?

It can rethink itself, as to where it's going. And it has begun to do that. There have been a lot of studies. What we need to do is single out priorities among the studies.

We need to get to the point that we have a vision for East Baltimore Street from Charles Street to the Jones Falls Expressway. Or Central Avenue. Or an extended waterfront. Or Howard Street.

What do you think about the notion of "theme cities" -- the use of urban entertainment, or edu-tainment, to lure people? Is that what Baltimore is becoming -- a theme park?

Well, I don't think any city is in the long term a theme park, no.

I think that what Baltimore doesn't want to lose is its authenticity -- its character as a place, as distinguished from other places. Because once you've lost that, you're just Anywhere, U.S.A. And why does a tourist want to visit Anywhere when it's all the same?

What can Baltimore do to become more of a tourist destination?

Tourism is changing. It's not just "Let's go to Disney World," as popular as that is. There's a yearning for people to understand their roots as Americans. There's a yearning for people to understand neighborhoods. Where they came from. Ethnic backgrounds.

One of the fantastic potentials here is that there is a great African-American history. In the realm of music, with Cab Calloway and Eubie Blake and Billie Holliday and Ethel Ennis, currently.

The notion of Baltimore as a Mecca of African-American tourism is something that [housing commissioner] Dan Henson and I have talked about, and think there's a real foundation to take that a considerable distance. Not just tourism in the Convention Center sense, which is fine, but to look for African-American tourism, other kinds of ethnic tourism -- races, backgrounds, neighborhoods, synagogues, churches, roots here. Heritage tourism.

Expansion plans for the B & O Railroad Museum and Carroll Mansion fit that approach.

Yes. It's authentic. It's not made up.

What else can Baltimore do to position itself better as a center of urban entertainment?

Urban entertainment means different things to different people. [Developer] Jim Rouse said 30 or 40 years ago that shopping is entertainment. It's certainly the case with theme restaurants like a Planet Hollywood or a Hard Rock Cafe. That's something that a David Cordish would be thinking about [for the Pier 4 Power Plant] or a Rouse Company when it revisits Harborplace.

I also think the Children's Museum [planned for the former city fish market, with the Walt Disney Company designing the exhibits] is very exciting. A wonderful idea. A children's museum tying into a whole Market Place with first-rate public improvements is one of the great opportunities in front of the city in the next couple of years.

Is there magic in virtual reality?

I think what you're seeing in entertainment must have been like the old days of the movie business, which I wasn't around for, in which there were a lot of inventors running around with new stuff.

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