Mount Washington to be training site Some in village say they're glad about USF&G sale


January 21, 1998|By Kevin L. McQuaid and Shanon D. Murray | Kevin L. McQuaid and Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

The head of St. Paul Cos. told USF&G Corp. employees yesterday that the Minnesota insurance giant will maintain USF&G's Mount Washington campus as an East Coast training facility.

St. Paul Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Douglas Leatherdale's statements came after a tour of the 68-acre, wooded tract that has been USF&G's headquarters since late 1996, and he dispelled fears that at least part of the campus would be shuttered amid job losses.

"He said he was impressed with the campus, with our training and development center and our conference facilities," said G. Jay Erbe Jr., USF&G's vice president of administrative services.

"And he said that, at a minimum, Mount Washington will be used as an East Coast training facility, and that may change as St. Paul begins to evaluate where different business entities will be. We're going to spend the next several months coming up with a strategic plan," he added.

Meanwhile, some merchants in Mount Washington's business district said they were glad about the sale.

Sandra Jurus, who owns a jewelry and craft store across the street from the USF&G campus, said USF&G has been a bad neighbor. "Other than clogging our streets, they didn't pay attention to our neighborhood," she said, mentioning a recent episode where nuns were evicted from a house on the property.

"I hope those people from Minnesota have a better conscience," she said.

There is concern about what the new owner will do with the property.

"If there is growth, we want it to be thoughtful," said Peter Hoffberger, founder of the Hoffberger Insurance Group, also across the street from USF&G.

Erbe said that, at least for 1998, there are no plans to add to the 638,000 square feet at the campus, which straddles the Baltimore city-county line and has served as USF&G's main operation since the company exited its 35-story skyscraper at the Inner Harbor.

USF&G has maintained operations in Mount Washington since 1984, two years after it spent $2.5 million to buy the campus from the Sisters of Mercy. Today, USF&G operates five buildings for more than 2,000 employees there.

In September 1996, USF&G completed a four-level, 925-space parking garage to accommodate workers who were moved from 100 Light St. downtown.

USF&G's development of the campus hasn't been without consternation, though.

Before moving to Mount Washington in November 1996, USF&G and nearby residents fought bitterly over the insurer's plans to develop a 144-room conference center and a 276-space parking garage there.

In some quarters, though, resentment lingers, as USF&G has altered plans and attempted to develop new projects on its property.

"Companies change owners, and executives leave all the time," said James S. Jacobs, an attorney and past president of the Mount Washington Improvement Association. "This is a perfect example of why zoning laws are created. When exemptions are given to corporations, it really just hurts the neighborhood and the city.

"It drives home why good corporate neighbors need to respect the communities in which they operate."

At the time, the improvement association complained that USF&G's developments would bring traffic congestion and noise and air pollution to the area and lower the value of residents' homes.

USF&G argued that the new projects were necessary to accommodate growth, and that the company's projects would be mindful of the community.

Eventually, the Baltimore City Council agreed to a compromise that allowed certain development rights if the planned conference center was dropped.

"It's always a balance," said Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger. "How to create jobs to pay for services people require. That's why we had input from the community, recognizing that USF&G needed the extra space to generate taxes to pay for services."

Ruppersberger, who worked at USF&G for a year as a claims adjuster while in law school, said he and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke have begun discussing ways to help USF&G in its transition with St. Paul.

"I'm very proud of the ambience and the culture that we've built here," Erbe said.

Pub Date: 1/21/98

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