Putting the focus on economic growth

CareFirst: Glendening, O'Malley send the right message in lobbying to keep health insurer in the city.

January 07, 2000

THEY strongly denied that threats -- implied or otherwise -- were used. But in announcing that CareFirst has scrapped its plan to move 350 jobs to Owing Mills, Mayor Martin O'Malley and Gov. Parris N. Glendening made it plain the city would fight to keep businesses from leaving downtown.

"We are not in the business of trading businesses from one area to another," said the governor, who played a key role in heading off the firm's move. "If the center is weak, the whole region is weak."

As for the new mayor, he said he is telling corporations that not renewing their downtown leases "would be a bad business decision right now because the city is rebounding; the city is coming back."

This kind of forcefulness is refreshening. During Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's administration the city was far too phlegmatic and fatalistic when major employers -- from law firms to financial service corporations -- fled to the suburbs.

CareFirst has signed a seven-year lease at the Bank of America building, 100 S. Charles St. In return, the company received a variety of inducements, including subsidized employee parking.

For several years, the high cost and inadequacy of downtown parking has been one of the huge unresolved issues hampering economic development. What has made inaction on the issue incomprehensible is that the city has $75 million in approved parking revenue bonds to build new public garages, but nothing has been done to start construction.

The truly encouraging thing yesterday was Mr. O'Malley's disclosure that he has had it with the Department of Public Works' failure to move on the problem. A separate parking authority will be created to see to it that new garage spaces are finally built.

Several downtown companies, including the RTKL Associates architectural firm, have leases expiring and are shopping. "I'm all over them," Mr. O'Malley said.

That's good.

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