Stinging blow for downtown Piper & Marbury: Law firm's move diminishes profile of Baltimore's central business district.

September 18, 1998

IN MODERN Baltimore, like most cities, it has been assumed that certain key economic activities need to be located in the central business district. The decision by Piper & Marbury to move to a suburban neighborhood challenges those assumptions. If Maryland's largest law firm no longer requires a downtown perch, who does?

Piper & Marbury's announcement shocked city boosters, particularly because Francis B. Burch Jr., the Piper & Marbury chairman, is a vice chairman of the Greater Baltimore Committee. That organization was established to lobby for the downtown business district, but has increasingly taken on a regional agenda.

Piper & Marbury plans to shift most of its 500 attorneys and support personnel to Mount Washington in Baltimore County by April 2000, leaving only a small office downtown. The move comes as the city is facing continued abandonment. Between 1990 and 1997, an estimated 78,750 residents moved out, reducing the city's population to about 657,200. Losses of this magnitude have diminished Baltimore's tax base and political influence and narrowed job opportunities.

By relocating to the outskirts of Mount Washington, a village between downtown and the Beltway, Piper & Marbury will be jTC able to better accommodate its staff, which is now scattered on 15 different floors of a downtown office building.

The firm says it was unable to find comparable space in the central business district.

Piper & Marbury seems convinced that its new location will not be a disadvantage -- that in today's electronic world it no longer needs to be within walking distance of the courthouse.

Piper & Marbury's departure will be felt throughout downtown, from private clubs to the few high-end clothing stores.

Combined with the planned move of the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. headquarters to Annapolis (which is now on hold because of an aborted merger), this latest news is a stinging setback to efforts to lure more corporations to the central business district.

Recent successes in strengthening downtown pale in comparison with a defection such as this.

Pub Date: 9/18/98

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