"That people are thinking about an uptick is a very recent thing," said Douglas L. Becker, Sylvan's president. "But when you have major capital projects like the Convention Center, Camden Yards and our new building, things that are tangible, I think it makes a huge impact."
'Fell in love' with city
"Our management team literally fell in love with what's happening in downtown Baltimore," said Donald F. Roland, president and chief executive of Treasure Chest Advertising Inc., which moved downtown from Los Angeles last November.
"And we knew we wanted to be part of a business community, rather than in a business park in the suburbs where you can feel isolated," he added. "Downtown, we felt, was a better place for a company with $900 million in annual sales."
Since selecting Baltimore over Philadelphia for its 90 workers, Treasure Chest has more than doubled its offices in the 26-story 250 W. Pratt St. tower shadowing Camden Yards.
In addition to merely bumping up the number of jobs downtown, the relocations are influencing what many believe is a necessary shift, away from traditional but shrinking employers such as banks and insurance companies.
Between 1990 and 1995, the city lost nearly 10,000 white-collar jobs in finance, insurance and real estate, according to statistics compiled by the Maryland Business Research Partnership, a joint project of business and the University of Baltimore.
The biggest losses were felt in banking. In the past five years, for instance, mergers have wiped out long-time Baltimore companies such as Maryland National and the Bank of Baltimore and with them hundreds of downtown jobs.
In years to come, the structural economic changes -- the same forces affecting virtually every city, experts say -- will significantly alter and perhaps benefit the job landscape downtown.
"The trend for the past several years among companies has been to develop campus-like headquarters in the suburbs," said Gene DePrez, a principal of Fluor Daniel Consulting Inc., a business relocation firm in New Jersey.
"But now, there's a growing minority of firms looking at downtown again for their headquarters," he added. "A lot of it has to do with the changing structure of corporations. Headquarters today are smaller, with a leadership contingent and operations components separated."
In Baltimore, the change is already apparent.
Consider the recent transplants and job creators: Sylvan provides educational services. HCIA Inc., a rapidly growing white-collar employer, analyzes health care data and consults hospitals on how to save money. The Ravens, the city's new National Football League franchise that perched its corporate offices downtown, provide entertainment.
"The consolidation of banks, the downsizing that's taken place over the past three to five years has concluded," said Richard P. Manekin, senior vice president and managing officer of the local office of CB Commercial Real Estate Group Inc., a Los Angeles-based real estate firm. "And people are realizing again that the city has a more dynamic environment than the suburbs."
That realization, together with cost, is aiding the city's business retention efforts, after years of disappointing defections that have zapped downtown.
Most notably, the city in the past year staved off the potential hemorrhaging of 1,600 jobs when it successfully kept the headquarters of both Alex. Brown Inc. and First Maryland.
"People have a sense that things can get done now," said Roger C. Lipitz, chairman of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development arm, since last October. "That there's a light at the end of the tunnel. People here are much more responsive now."
Few commitments have been as impressive as Alex. Brown's: Its move to the 30-story Commerce Place skyscraper at year-end will cost the investment firm about $88 million through 2012.
Furthermore, out-of-town investors are preparing to invest roughly $35 million to purchase three downtown office buildings, sources say. By the end of the year, buyers are expected to conclude deals on the 12-story Candler Building, the 30-story Blaustein Building and the 23-story One Charles Center tower.
"We believed then and still believe that all the ingredients are in place downtown to make it a strong business sector again," said Gerald V. Blomquist, managing partner of Biltmore Holdings Inc., a Phoenix firm that led an $8.5 million purchase in April 1995 of the eight-story NationsBank Center II, at 100 S. Charles St. "And Baltimore is making good efforts to create excitement downtown. The direction is reassuring to us."
The buying frenzy might even extend to Orioles Chief Executive Peter G. Angelos, who on the heels of a $14.4 million investment in a Towson office building is searching for office space to house his expanding downtown law practice.