A plan to keep 350 jobs in city

CareFirst could get subsidized parking for not moving


January 05, 2000|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

The city Board of Estimates will consider granting a seven-year parking lease to CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield Inc. today to keep the company from moving its downtown operations and 350 jobs out of the city.

Baltimore would subsidize downtown parking to one of the state's largest health care companies to the tune of $48,000, according to the proposal.

In return, the city would retain 350 jobs, create 30 more jobs and hold on to $320,000 in estimated taxes over the seven-year period, the proposed agreement states.

Keeping the company from moving its city operations closer to its Owings Mills headquarters would be a huge save for new Mayor Martin O'Malley, who said yesterday that approving the parking lease is a critical step.

"We're getting closer," O'Malley said of an announcement by CareFirst. "It's huge. It's big."

CareFirst officials declined to comment, directing all calls to O'Malley. O'Malley is hoping to join Gov. Parris N. Glendening, CareFirst President William L. Jews and House Appropriations Chairman Howard P. Rawlings as soon as the end of the week to announce the agreement for CareFirst to stay in the city.

Last month, Rawlings told the Baltimore Homeowners Coalition that the city and state were nearing an agreement to keep the company, which has 2.54 million members and handles BlueCross BlueShield health plans in Maryland and the District of Columbia, in the city.

Jews announced in September that the company planned to move its downtown operation to a site near its Owings Mills headquarters.

Worried about the lack of parking and increasing worker fears about city crime, company officials signed a lease on a planned 96,000-square-foot single-story office building.

After the September Democratic mayoral primary, Rawlings began holding meetings involving O'Malley and Jews hoping to prevent the loss. The city, which loses about 1,000 city residents a month, has also watched thou- sands of jobs leave for suburban counties.

Under its current lease for more than a quarter of the 17-story Bank of America tower at 100 S. Charles St., the company was forced to give one year's notice before vacating next September.

The terms of the parking agreement are predicated on CareFirst providing the city with evidence that it is renewing its office lease at 100 S. Charles for seven years through Sept. 30, 2007.

CareFirst has been leasing 300 parking spaces from Baltimore at the Redwood Street parking garage for $60 per month per space since 1993. The lease expires with the office lease in September.

Under the new lease, the city would provide 250 parking spaces in the Redwood garage for $120,000 per year. Another 100 parking spots at the Arena parking garage would be allotted to CareFirst for $60,000 per year. The city also would provide 50 spaces in the Arena garage on a monthly basis at a cost of $100 each per month, or $60,000 per year.

The average cost to CareFirst for the 400 city spaces would drop from $60 to $50 per month under the proposal. A news conference planned for today on the matter was canceled late yesterday and is expected to be rescheduled, possibly by the end of the week.

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