New hope for downtown Signs of revival: Despite appearances, Baltimore isn't drowning in its problems yet.

July 22, 1996

CITY RESIDENTS become so discouraged by all that is bad about their towns that they take too little comfort in what is good. And suburbanites, who can't help but notice city dwellers' immersion in urban woes, decide isolation is the best way to avoid contagion. But situations often are neither as bad nor as good as they appear.

The laundry list of urban ills affecting Baltimore, for example, seems unbearable if not placed in context. Solving those problems is not impossible, given the right leadership. Such leadership must be able to transfer the expected success of downtown economic development projects to neighborhoods and schools that received too little attention after the Inner Harbor achieved renaissance 15 years ago.

It could happen. The downtown, which has been losing tax base as companies follow their employees to the suburbs, appears to have hit bottom. The exodus could reverse as a number of projects are completed, including the $150 million expansion of the Convention Center, the $27 million conversion of the failed Fishmarket to a children's museum and Cordish Co.'s $18 million renovation of the old Power Plant. The crown jewel could be a new $100 million downtown luxury hotel that is being considered by a Seattle lodging company.

Sylvan Learning Systems is moving to Inner Harbor East and a number of other businesses are thinking about or planning relocation downtown, including the NAACP, McDonald's Corp. and Crestar Bank. Fidelity & Guaranty Life Insurance and Bell Atlantic are moving downtown because they miss the amenities the urban center offers -- restaurants, hotels, convenient access to highways and the airport, the ambience of life in the big city.

Of course, ambience wasn't enough to retain USF&G Corp., which is moving to Mount Washington, or Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., which will relocate to Annapolis after it merges with Potomac Electric Power Co. Yet downtown remains the city's economic engine, though it still has some holes that must be patched. Parking and other issues that drive companies from downtown must be resolved now. The challenge is to muster the leadership needed to accomplish those tasks.

Pub Date: 7/22/96

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