West side gets moving with nonprofit group

$350 million effort: Forming group to spearhead development mirrors Charles Center strategy.

July 18, 1999

IT makes good sense to create a separate, non-profit corporation to lead and champion development of the 18-block area surrounding the old Howard Street retail corridor. A well-coordinated private-public partnership is essential for this $350 million undertaking to succeed.

The West Side Development Corp. should be up and running by mid-September. It faces a formidable task, but the group is better positioned to undertake it than the quasi-governmental Baltimore Development Corp.

Indeed, one of the most heartening signs at the announcement of this group's formation last week was the encouragement of M.J. Brodie, who runs the BDC. He praised business leaders involved in the west side effort and the "classic, evolving private-public partnership."

Private investment has been the driving force behind west side activities to date. The best thing government can do is encourage this effort without running the show. BDC should work closely with the new West Side Development Corp., but it should let the private-sector group play the lead role as advocate and coordinator.

The model for this project is the nonprofit corporation that so brilliantly conceived and developed Charles Center and the Inner Harbor. It avoided government red tape and bureaucratic in-fighting. It had the flexibility to operate like a private company, not like an agent of City Hall.

BDC can't focus all its attention on the west side effort. The new development corporation can. Such a coordinating agency is needed now, as apartment construction is already under way, design work proceeds on a regional arts center at a renovated Hippodrome Theater and the Weinberg Foundation is planning a major entertainment and retailing complex with developers of the Harlem USA project in New York.

For downtown Baltimore, the west side development is the most exciting venture in decades. It holds vast potential to unify already thriving parts of downtown and to create a dynamic new neighborhood of apartments, shops and entertainment. The private sector has built up considerable momentum on the west side. City Hall should do everything it can to keep this momentum going.

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