TLC for BWI Economic engine: Area around airport needs sprucing up to attract and compete for investment.

November 18, 1998

SUBSTANTIAL improvements in parking and terminal space in the past five years have fortified Baltimore-Washington International Airport as a major economic engine in Maryland.

In turn, the 80 square miles around the facility in Linthicum has seen millions of dollars of commercial development in office buildings, warehouses, movie theaters and hotels. Unfortunately, a lack of control over signs, landscaping and building design could impede further investment.

The situation may not be apparent to travelers who whisk into and out of BWI directly from the interstate highway or light rail, but to those who travel around the airport on business, the district looks a little disheveled. Some buildings have extensive and attractive landscaping. Others are ringed by unbroken expanses of asphalt. Advertising signs are a mishmash. Some of the buildings are little more than metal boxes colored garishly. The area will never be nominated as a scenic attraction in Anne Arundel County -- truth be told, most metropolitan airport environs wouldn't -- but it wouldn't take a lot to make the area more pleasing to the eye.

Fortunately, the problem is beginning to gain attention. The BWI Business Partnership Inc., a marketing group, and Anne Arundel planners are not willing to accept the premise that the BWI area is no worse than many of its counterparts. They are making an effort to soften the most obvious visual blight around the airport. A push to remove extraneous outdoor advertising, create standards for street signs and improve landscaping should be welcomed, not resisted.

Improving aesthetics may not have an immediate impact on business' bottom line, but it will make the area around BWI more pleasant for the people who work and travel there. In the long run, a good-looking commercial area will continue to attract investment.

Pub Date: 11/18/98

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