Legg Mason Inc. said yesterday that it plans to move a quarter of its employees from its Light Street headquarters to Owings Mills.
About 400 corporate technology and operations employees will relocate in December to a vacant four-story office building in a development known as the Riparius Center, said Timothy C. Scheve, Legg Mason's senior executive vice president and chief administrative officer.
The move won't alleviate another burden of city life, lack of parking, but will make room for anticipated job growth at the headquarters.
"We would have preferred contiguous space downtown," Scheve said. "The benefit of Owings Mills is that a building is ready now."
Legg had been searching for more space for about a year and a half with the aid of city officials. But it became clear that a lack of available top-notch space meant any company in need of a large block would have to anchor a new building.
Several developers are ready to start projects, but none could be completed in less than two years.
Scheve said Legg Mason remains committed to the city and will continue expanding downtown, where it has nine years left on its lease for 370,000 square feet, or two-thirds of the building at Light and Pratt streets.
In Owings Mills, Legg signed a 10-year lease on a four-story office building owned by Transwestern Investment Co., a Chicago investment firm.
The empty building had been developed by Highwoods Properties Inc., a real estate investment trust that sold its Baltimore portfolio last year when it fell out of favor on Wall Street.
Such speculative construction has taken a toll on Owings Mills, which real estate agents say has the region's highest office vacancy rate.
Legg's growth noted
Back in the city, officials expressed regret that desirable large spaces are not available for new and expanding businesses, including Legg. But Laurie Schwartz, deputy mayor for economic and neighborhood development, noted the company's significant growth in Baltimore.
Legg has grown to 1,600 employees from 900 in 1996, when it moved into its present headquarters building.
Schwartz also said the city was doing what it could to encourage private development of Class A offices, which attract more high-paying jobs. The city has approved tax benefits for office and parking projects, including a development by J. J. Clarke Enterprises Inc., which is clearing old buildings from the site on 1 Light St., near the Legg building.
Legg still is searching for more parking near its headquarters, and city officials are working to identify spaces to keep one of their most prestigious employers happy. They are also reviewing lots and buildings that could be turned into new garages. The city is in the process of acquiring buildings on East Lombard Street for a garage and possibly office space.
M. J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development arm, said officials are taking another look at the 100 block of E. Redwood St. A Hampton Inn is planned for two former USF&G Corp. buildings in that block, but Brodie said the city is exploring a way to fit a garage on the site as well.
"This is all part of the larger issue of parking," he said.