Baltimore's parking nightmare Downtown: Lack of spaces makes city unable to compete for badly needed office tenants.

September 21, 1997

WHEN PRUDENTIAL Preferred Financial Services was thinking of relocating a 30-employee office from Timonium to downtown Baltimore, the whole deal was in danger of collapsing over 20 parking spaces.

L This is a problem many business have to deal with every day.

"Crime is no longer the top issue downtown, parking is," says Laurie Schwartz, president of Downtown Partnership, which has issued 24 recommendations to deal with the problem. Among them is the creation of a parking authority and incentive fund as well as construction of 1,500 new spaces in the central business district within the next five years. Also envisioned are shuttle buses to ferry commuters between satellite parking lots and their offices and back.

According to the Downtown Partnership study, the central business district contains nearly 60 percent of the area's available office space, including nearly one million square feet of Class A space. Yet inadequate parking facilities -- regardless of cost -- make it difficult to market that space successfully. Indeed it is estimated that Baltimore lost 600 prospective jobs last year alone because of problems associated with parking shortages.

The situation is critical, says Ms. Schwartz. "We have an opportunity here but we cannot capture it because we don't have parking."

Even where parking is available, a space can cost more than $2,000 a year. Some firms subsidize their employees' parking, others do not.

It is encouraging that Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has wasted no time in beginning a search for a parking expert, who will advise him on the best mechanism to alleviate downtown Baltimore's parking problems. Yet this is an economic development issue on which the mayor has dropped the ball.

There was a time when an off-street parking commission at least tried to foresee the downtown parking needs and deal with them. In recent years, however, no one has had a clear responsibility for such an overall strategy.

The Downtown Partnership initiative should be viewed as a mandate for urgent corrective action. In this day and age a city that does not have convenient and affordable parking is driving out business.

Pub Date: 9/21/97

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