Struever hurries through a gutted floor of the plant, past plumes of flame from blowtorches, dangling wires and the jarring staccato of jackhammers. With his glasses, shaggy hair, faded blue jeans and open-collared oxford shirt tugging free from his belt, he looks like a high-strung professor in a hard hat.
"Why can't we get the electricity turned on?" he demands.
"We're waiting for another $250,000," tenant coordinator Joe Henley replies.
Running up a flight of stairs, Struever enters an empty level of the Joy building, where Procter & Gamble once made the dishwashing detergent. This is the site of Struever's new headquarters. His 200-person firm is to move here soon from a cramped office on Charles Street.
Right now it doesn't look much like a joy - it's a vast and dusty space with sheets of ripped plastic covering the windows. But then the wind blows a sheet of plastic aside, lifting the curtains on a beautiful view of the harbor in the morning light: a heron flying low and a tugboat churning.
Struever, though, is on the move again. Heading back outside, he reflects on how much more complex it is to renovate vacant industrial buildings, with their lead paint and other headaches, than to build on empty land in suburbia. From a dock beside the factory, he unlocks a kayak and climbs inside. He'll paddle from here to his next meeting across the harbor. It's the fastest way to move between his waterfront properties, he says.
"Saving the whole city, that's what we're all about," Struever says with his characteristic lack of irony. "You've got to think big. Boldness creates a magic that makes things happen."
Behind him on the walls of the old factory, the sun gleams off the wizardly man-in-the-moon logo that Procter & Gamble products once carried. Struever, a master of recycling, has recycled the image for himself.
`Carpe diem! Seize the day!'
Janet Marie Smith, vice president of Struever Bros., could not be more different from her boss. In contrast to his tendency to interrupt people and talk right over them, Smith has the polished manners and lilting accent of Mississippi. While he wears jeans, she wears designer sunglasses and a cream-colored dress.
Before joining the firm, Smith helped build Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves, and design Oriole Park at Camden Yards. This morning, though, she and Struever are driving through a less glamorous part of Baltimore, past the shattered windows, graffiti-marred walls and weedy grounds of the old Flag House projects.
"We told Porcari $300 million over five years," Struever tells Smith.
He's talking about state Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari, whom Struever has been lobbying for state funds to help pay for roads, waterfront bulkheads and parks to encourage the construction of office buildings around the so-called Digital Harbor. The name is part of a marketing campaign that Struever and others have been pushing to make Baltimore sound like a welcoming port for high-tech companies.
"But Laurie Schwartz [the city's deputy mayor] is talking about only five million," Struever continues. "Carpe diem! Seize the day! We've got to seize the moment and convince them to ask for more money."
"They've got to have more confidence in what we're doing," Smith agrees.
As it turns out, Struever will get his wish. A month and a half after this car-ride conversation, the precise dollar figure named by Struever is what Mayor O'Malley has put in his capital budget request to the state for 2001 through 2006. The city is asking for $300 million over five years in the name of building the Digital Harbor, including at least $76 million that would provide infrastructure for offices, shops and apartments planned by Struever.
City officials say the figures came from City Hall, not from Struever. But the episode hints at how much influence Struever exerts over the city's economic development strategies.
Struever has been a major Democratic donor and player in state politics for more than a decade. He helped raise funds for Glendening in 1994, when he was a little-known Prince George's County executive running for his first state office. After the election, the governor named Struever to the city school board, where he serves as chairman of the finance committee and the city's main negotiator with Glendening over school funding.
Struever is also a close friend and financial contributor to Lt. Gov. Townsend, a probable front-runner for governor in 2002. At an $800,000 fund-raiser for Townsend at the Kennedy family compound in Hyannis Port, Mass., last August, Struever and President Clinton shared a meal that concluded with chocolate mousse boats festooned with sails bearing Townsend's initials.
In city politics, Struever has been an opportunist. Before the 1999 Democratic mayoral primary, Struever supported and donated $2,000 to Carl Stokes, one of O'Malley's opponents. The month after O'Malley won the primary, Struever switched course; he and his partners gave $4,000 to O'Malley.