City aiming to boost role of minorities

O'Malley unveils 5-year plan to lure businesses

`Go the extra mile'

Incentives to focus on `digital harbor,' downtown's west side

March 27, 2001|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

Mayor Martin O'Malley launched a five-year plan yesterday to recruit minority-owned businesses to Baltimore's burgeoning technology industry and downtown's west side.

Under the initiative, called the Minority Business Inclusion Plan, the city will use low-interest loans and tax incentives to help place two minority-owned biotechnology or high-technology companies, five retail stores and a restaurant or entertainment venue downtown and in other areas the city has pegged for redevelopment.

The city will also help more minorities gain part ownership in office buildings, housing projects and other development deals that receive financial assistance from the state or city. The city will encourage the developers to make shares available to minority investors and will give greater consideration to projects with minority participation.

The new Office of Minority Business Development will be responsible for implementing and monitoring the plan. The mayor announced that Owen Tonkins, director of community development for Patterson, N.J., will head the office beginning next month.

"Not many, if any, cities have succeeded in empowering minority businesses at the level we are committing to today," O'Malley said at a news conference. "But in Baltimore, we will go the extra mile to make sure that our new prosperity lifts all neighborhoods, all communities and all people."

O'Malley' initiative comes amid a wave of downtown development that includes hotels, office buildings and apartments, projects that many black officials and business people have said leave minorities out.

Some black lawmakers were resistant to supporting an O'Malley plan to use $300 million over five years in state funds to help build the "digital harbor," economic development projects designed to make the city more attractive to high-tech businesses and other enterprises.

But yesterday, O'Malley outlined the plan flanked by some of those legislators, who now say that blacks can get a share of the development opportunities. A House of Delegates ad hoc committee helped the mayor formulate the minority inclusion program.

"This is the most comprehensive minority economic development plan in the history of this city, which includes the Schaefer administration, the Du Burns administration and the Schmoke administration," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "This is a great day for economic justice in the city of Baltimore."

Rawlings said that though negotiations on state funding for the digital harbor and the west side are continuing, the mayor's minority business plan is crucial to winning the city delegation's support. O'Malley has asked for $34.7 million this year.

The plan also calls for the city to form partnerships to provide technology training to potential job candidates.

The mayor's initiative is one of several plans announced recently that are aimed at increasing minority participation in economic development.

Last week, O'Malley and Morgan State University said they would work together to create an Urban Center for Developing Technologies.

And Empower Baltimore Management Corp., which oversees development of designated neighborhoods under a federal program, said it is commissioning a study to see how it can train people for technology jobs.

Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV is seeking recognition from the General Assembly to create a four-block black entertainment and business district within the west side redevelopment area.

"We think the mayor's plan is good for our project because it brings attention to the whole area," said Zachary McDaniels, Mitchell's chief of staff.

Otis Warren, a developer and the first black in Baltimore to build a major office complex, the City Crescent building downtown, said the plan should open a lot of doors for black businesses.

Sun staff writer Tom Pelton contributed to this article.

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