City can bank on Alex. Brown gifts

Anniversary: As the company celebrates its 200th year, it assures the city that, despite ownership changes, it will continue its philanthropy.

April 15, 2000|By Robert Little | Robert Little,SUN STAFF

It's not as if Alex. Brown hasn't given Baltimore enough to be thankful for. The downtown investment bank underwrote such innovations as running water and electricity, for example. And the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. And the Bay Bridge.

Company officials made no claim yesterday that all of the ice-sculpting and cake-cutting and pyrotechnic sparkling going on at the Inner Harbor to promote Alex. Brown's 200th anniversary were among the corporation's more enduring gifts to the community.

But the business now known as Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown is doing more than celebrating a birthday this weekend, company officials said. It is trying to assure civic leaders and residents that after two centuries as a local business, its new German name and its new German owners have not erased the company from the list of Baltimore's top corporate citizens and givers to the community.

"We want to make sure people understand that we're still dedicated to Baltimore and to this community," said Mayo A. Shattuck III, co-chairman and co-chief executive officer of Alex. Brown.

"If there's any misperception that we're not a part of Baltimore for the long haul, we're going to change that perception."

The company's birthday celebration officially began yesterday, with a round of Inner Harbor speechmaking by Shattuck, Mayor Martin O'Malley and others. The Inner Harbor crowd was entertained by singers and balloon twisters, showered with dust from a daylight fireworks display and fed about 100 square feet of corporate cake.

But as usual in its line of work, Alex. Brown plans to put on the biggest show with its bank account.

The company has pledged $5.5 million in gifts to local schools, museums and community programs, its largest charitable gift ever.

This weekend the company isn't just giving to the city; it's giving away the city. Continuing through tomorrow, many of Baltimore's major tourist attractions will waive admission at certain times, with the costs paid by contributions from Alex. Brown.

Such a sizable corporate handout attracted a gaggle of grateful recipients to yesterday's party, many of whom recalled recent days when they thought Alex. Brown's history in Baltimore had come to an end, first when it was bought by Bankers Trust New York Corp. in 1997 and again when it was acquired by the German bank Deutsche Banc AG last year.

"I guess I was thinking just like everybody else that its days were over in Baltimore," said Gary Vikan, director of the Walters Art Gallery, which will receive $1 million from the company to finance an "arts immersion" program through Baltimore public schools.

"From my point of view, the engagement of Alex. Brown in this community is as great now as it has ever been."

The company's engagement in the community hasn't been slight over the years. Since the day in 1800 when Alexander Brown arrived from Ireland and began work as a linen merchant on Gay Street, Alex. Brown & Sons and its various incarnations have been involved in the construction and development of Baltimore.

It helped form the Baltimore Water Co. in 1808 to bring water to city residents and businesses. In 1827, the B&O Railroad was conceived at a meeting in Alexander Brown's son's house. The company financed the railroad, and the Browns were among the passengers on the first steam-powered rail voyage.

Alex. Brown was a key financier of post-Civil War reconstruction in the city and later reorganized Baltimore's electric light companies and became one of the nation's leading sellers of public utility bonds.

Later, its financing helped build the Bay Bridge, the Delaware Memorial Bridge and the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel.

As it grew in Baltimore, the corporation developed a national reputation. In the 1980s and 1990s, it became one of the nation's leaders in launching initial public sales of corporations, taking public high-tech powerhouses such as Microsoft Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., Oracle Corp. and America Online Inc.

Alex. Brown flirted with leaving Baltimore in 1995, before the city promised it a new downtown parking garage across from the 30-story One South Street tower, where it consolidated its offices, that now bears its name. But as companies such as USF&G Corp. left downtown, Alex. Brown stayed and continued to build a name as one of the city's top philanthropists.

"Alex. Brown has grown, it has created a reputation far, far beyond Baltimore, and yet it has been able to keep its identity and keep its Baltimore roots," said Donald P. Hutchinson, a former Baltimore County executive and state legislator who is president of the Greater Baltimore Committee.

"When Bankers Trust bought them, we all thought they were gone. And then when Deutsche Banc bought them.

"But they're not gone. They're right at the top of the pyramid of local companies that care about and invests in the community."

Mike and Linda Korzybski didn't know too much about Alex. Brown's business yesterday afternoon as they stood on the bow of the Constellation. "I wish I could tell you that I have a lot of money invested with them, but I don't. I know that they're a financial company, based in Frankfurt, Germany," Mike Korzybski said.

The Carroll County couple also didn't know that the company has a 200-year history in Baltimore or that it was founded 54 years before the warship they were touring was launched.

But they knew that Alex. Brown was paying the bill yesterday for visitors to the Constellation and the National Aquarium, so they took off work to spend the afternoon at the Inner Harbor. Today, five other attractions will be free. Tomorrow, four more.

"To give the people an opportunity to do this, especially if a lot of people can't afford it, you've got to be thankful that a company would do that," said Linda Korzybski.

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